Carrying a dream to be a doctor through the mountains of northern Iraq
By Raefah Makki, IFRC
It’s 3.30pm in Khanke, Dahuk in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. We arrive to the IDP camp with a delegation from the ICRC, the IFRC and the Iraqi Red Crescent. Children immediately gather around us, either out of curiosity or out of excitement to receive new guests.
I can’t really define the relationship between the camera and the children we usually meet in camps. After asking permission from their parents to take photos, the children start posing. They do it like professionals and their confidence is heart-warming to see.
Often on field missions, there is usually one person who becomes the centre of attention. For us it was Renda, an 11-year-old girl from the Yazidi community who fled from Sinjar at the onset of violence.
Renda’s journey was very harsh. She and her family had to walk through the mountains for three days to reach Dahuk. They were tired, weak, and afraid of the unknown.
As she carried her little sister, one-year-old Kadar, Renda talked about the journey; she expressed her worries about the five families of their relatives who were captured by armed groups; she shared her dream to become a paediatrician. She simply made me feel what her suffering meant in just few words. And she did it with a big smile on her face.
Renda didn’t ask why am I there in their camp, she didn’t show anger or frustration that the families’ needs are increasing by the day. She even spared me their worry about the coming winter and how they are going to survive it. I felt very lucky that Renda enjoyed our chat.
As I moved around and focused my lens on other children, Renda followed me and, at the first opportunity, grabbed my hand and took me to visit her parents and other brothers and sisters. I told Renda’s father about her dream of becoming a doctor and he said “Allah Karim” – God is generous.
We spent some time with her parents, had a talk about Beirut – where I come from – and Renda’s father spoke Arabic very well; something which has pleased Renda since we were able to communicate.
It is always difficult to leave. I was not sure what to tell Renda; in normal situations, you would exchange contact details – a phone number, a business card, a Facebook address – but this time, I didn’t know what to say while leaving, neither Renda nor her father was able to provide this seemingly simple information.
In the silence of a faltering conversation, I realized the real meaning behind displacement. It’s not just leaving behind things – these can usually be replaced – it is losing the bonds of community. A home, an address. Somewhere we can be found again.
I felt embarrassed having to leave the camp. Many thoughts were occupying my mind. What would Renda think of me? Would she think I was there only to write about her then leave to my air- conditioned room while the temperature in their tent rose above 40 degrees?
I was embarrassed for the fact that she has offered me a seat in their tent, and insisted that I drink some of the very little water they had. At that time, I felt it’s me who is displaced not Renda.
We parted ways with a smile, a kiss and a hope that Renda will go back home soon.
For you Renda, I have written this piece, hoping that you would return home very soon and read it with a smile and good memory of the Red Cross Red Crescent team. I hope one day you will have your own clinic and you will be able to help lessen the pain of other children.
Raefah Makki is a communications manager with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. She travelled to Iraq as part of a joint IFRC and ICRC visit to Iraq in support to the Iraqi Red Crescent Society and to assess needs for further humanitarian support. The delegation included the secretary-general of the IFRC, Elhadj As Sy, and the director-general of the ICRC Yves Daccord.