A wise man serves his community

Mohammed replaces a broken part in his neighbour’s water system. ©UNICEF/Iraq/2016/Niles

Mohammed had been a refugee for several months when the idea dawned on him.

“Water is the most important thing in life. It’s the key to life and and also necessary for good hygiene, and we need both,” he says.

After Mohammed fled violence in Qamishli, Syria more than two years ago he found refuge in Darashakran refugee camp in northern Iraq.

A father of three, and an engineer by profession, he could see the challenges his neighbours in the camp faced with their new living arrangements.

“There were many problems with the plumbing system,” he said. “It wasted a lot of water. I came up with the idea of creating a self maintenance programme where camp residents oversee their own and their neighbours’ plumbing systems. But I didn’t know how to make my vision come true. I didn’t have the resources on hand, so I had to wait.”

When UNICEF’s implementing partner, Relief International, began working in the camp, they looked for a mukhta — the local term for a man who is wise and influential in his community. They found Mohammed.

“Relief International wanted somebody to report the problems the camp was having with drinking water and waste systems,” Mohammed says. “My idea was still fresh, so I drew up a proposal for the self-maintenance programme, and they accepted it.”

Through this community based project, made possible by a generous contribution from the United States’ Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), Mohammed formed a water and sanitation (WASH) committee, trained volunteers in the basics of plumbing, and equipped them with tool kits. Darashakran now has 206 trained volunteer plumbers, each responsible for 16 families.

Mohammed, (centre) at the daily WASH committee in Darashakran camp. ©UNICEF/Iraq/2016/Niles

Every morning in the camp the volunteer WASH committee meets to discuss plumbing problems and find solutions.

Today, they’re discussing Sector C, a new section of the camp. Two months ago, about 200 families, who are mostly from Kobani, moved from tents to more permanent structures in this area, and they’re experiencing the usual teething problems of any big move.

After the committee has met and assessed the needs they go to the supply room to pick up the parts they’ll need before heading out to the site. The first family they visit has a problem with one of their taps and Mohammed and his colleagues scramble up onto the roof to access the pipes and get to work.

Mohammed discusses a plumbing problem with a neighbour in Darashakran camp. ©UNICEF/Iraq/2016/Niles

The repair doesn’t take long, and then it’s down the ladder and off to another job. Mohammed’s days are busy and he walks with a brisk stride through the camp in order to get as much accomplished as possible.

The programme is so successful that Relief International and other partners will extend it to other refugee and IDP camps in the Kurdistan region. So far 63 volunteers have been trained in five other camps.

The volunteer teamcomprises equal numbers of men and women — another of Mohammed’s ideas.

“It was difficult at first for families to accept women working outside the home but I believe in gender balance,” he says. “Anyway, men can’t do everything — it’s also not possible for a man to enter a home if a woman is alone.”

One repair job complete, the volunteer team moves on to the next assignment. ©UNICEF/Iraq/2016/Niles

Mohammed also believes his programme will be useful for women and men to develop skills which they can apply in the future.

“We will eventually go back home and start new lives, and the people I’ve trained will have job opportunities that they didn’t have before.” he says.

For all that he has achieved, Mohammed is not resting on his accomplishments, but is constantly thinking about what can be done next.

“When I’m in bed at night, the last thing I’m always thinking about is what people told me about their lives, and the problems they have, and about ways the programme can improve and help them.”

Chris Niles is a Consultant with UNICEF Iraq.

For direct donations to UNICEF in Iraq: http://support.unicef.org/campaign/donate-children-iraq