Healing the scars you can’t see

ConflictIraq

Armed conflict doesn’t just leave behind physical scars, but deep, mental ones too. How do you process the trauma you have seen, survived and still carry, then go on to rebuild your life?

In Iraq, the recent conflict with ISIS has led to millions of people becoming internally displaced, while 250,000 people are refugees in neighbouring countries. Families were forced to flee their homes, leaving their entire livelihoods behind to seek safety.

Shakir and his wife, Amal* survived the conflict, but still carry painful memories of what it was like to live in Iraq during that time. This is their story.

Shakir was a police officer when ISIS took over his village. He was forced into hiding; a wanted man. Housebound for two years he describes captivity as being like a prison. ‘I forgot I am a human being’, he says.

With no money coming in, Amal was forced to beg for food, suffering personal insults as she tried to provide for her husband and children. It was a very difficult time for her – pregnant, scared for her husband, and what the future held for them both.

Enough was enough
With Shakir feeling close to breaking point, he and Amal reached a decision: they would pay for him to be smuggled out of the village. Being separated from his wife and children was hard and the journey, harrowing. What he saw on that journey, he says will stay with him forever.

‘I saw adults and children died of heat and hunger, and I saw with my own eyes the children died and their parents put them under the sand... I will not forget that scene and I will not forget that nightmare during the six days we spent in the valley without food and water.’

Shakir ended up in several different camps for months at a time. He had no news on the safety of his family for a long time. Finally he was able to contact them, but his family were under threat and couldn’t leave to be with him.

After a long time, Shakir and his family were finally reunited at a camp providing refuge for displaced people. But so much time had passed that his youngest son not only didn’t recognise him, but was afraid of him. ‘It was really very hard for me’, he shares.

Shakir and Amal were in the camp for around 80 days before they found out it was safe to go home. They returned with nothing but their family and the clothes on their backs. However, the conflict had left a mark. Their home had been partially destroyed, their possessions taken by ISIS. The family wept at what they saw.

Rebuilding your life starts with the essentials
The situation inside the village was not good. In the aftermath of the conflict there was no running water and food was scarce.

At Tearfund we understand the essentials are what a family needs to be able to begin to rebuild their lives. It’s a way of giving back control, empowering people to be able to take ownership of their future.

Tearfund installed a water pipeline for the village, as well as individual water tanks for families like Shakir and Amal’s, and distributed hygiene kits too. This brings back to families a sense of normality.

‘I would like to thank you for your humanity’, Shakir concludes. ‘We will never forget that [Tearfund] helped the most.’

We’re here for the long-term
Providing essentials to help people get back on their feet is great, but we also need to be caring for people’s emotional needs too. This takes time, as overcoming significant trauma is not a simple process. Shakir and Amal’s story is one of many that shows the devastating impact that conflict has on people’s mental wellbeing.

This is why Tearfund is working in local communities. We’re creating environments where long-term, sustainable progress is possible and people can begin to overcome their trauma. We remain committed to providing opportunities for recovery and rehabilitation, supporting families to bring healing and restoration.

*Names changed to protect identities.

Rachael Adams

Rachael is a copywriter in the Brand and Communications team.

She came to work for Tearfund after various press and communications roles. From lobbying the Government for better support for modern slavery victims in the UK, to rescuing a cat from a building site and everything in between. No day ever really was the same.

(Injured) runner, sporadic baker, youth worker and cheese enthusiast, she’s usually found with her head in several books or in a goblet of tea.