This post is on my visits to the refugee camp in Southern Kurdistan which was life changing and it definitely was an emotional experience. I had the pleasure of attending Darashakran Camp near the end of April where I met amazing people who really work day in and out to make sure the refugees who fled ISIS feel some sort of belonging. My whole experience started when I was invited to attend a ceremony that was held for the students of that camp by Ensign International Energy Services-Kurdistan Branch (a Canadian oil and gas company). When the head of HR department Serwa Khelil informed me that the Samaritan’s Purse International Relief was hosting this event, I jumped to seize the opportunity. I could not be more excited to accompany her and her co-worker, and I truly was grateful for the opportunity.
Before I go into more detail about my experience at the camp I would like to go over a brief description of the camp in general. Before writing this, I decided to research the Darashakran Camp. I wanted to get information from a creditable source and what better place to do so then the government website. With that being said, I went on the Kurdistan Regional Government website and researched on Syrian Refugees in Erbil Governorate. I discovered that there are currently four permanent camps in Erbil: the Kawergosk camp, Qushtapa camp, Darashakran camp, and the Basirma camp. Although all the information and statistics were eye catching, I wanted to focus on the camp I visited. The Darashakran Refugee Camp, located in Khabat, Erbil, opened on October 1, 2013. It inhabits over 7,500 refugees, most of them from the Kurdish city of Qamishli (Rojava Kurdistan).
As I drove through the refugee camp I couldn’t help but notice how people have really tried to make this place ‘home’. Salons, banquet halls (of course not what you and I are used to), little shops, variety stores etc, have been built. The camp was like a little city emerging. It was amazing and quit touching. I felt sad because I could only imagined what these families have gone through and what pain they were feeling. All I could do at that point was capture the moment. I got up in the pickup truck and started taking photographs of the camp, trying to capture the atmosphere and vibe of the area.
THE ACTUAL CEREMONY
We entered the grounds of the school where the ceremony was held with a warm welcome by Sipan Barzani, the founder of Koraw Organization for Relieving Refugees and other volunteers. We were escorted to our seating area. I could have not asked for a better seating place. We had front row seat where I witnessed great things; children laughing, teachers bonding with their students, and the respect from everyone.The school children dressed in school uniforms and lined up on either side of the court yard sang Kurdish songs. The excitement on their face was priceless because they knew that day was their day and that they were going to receive presents.
Sipan Barzani started the ceremony by presenting details about the camp and speaking about Samaritan’s Purse International Relief and other organizations who help the people of the Darashakran Refugee Camp. As I sat there and listened to each speaker and their words I could not help feeling overwhelmed. I could feel every word they were saying about these refugees and their families. The love and energy in the air was great like I have never felt before. Despite being displaced and loosing everything they had, they made the best of their present. The children sang along with the singer, singing nationalist songs about Kurds, Kurdistan and Freedom. In the Kermanji dialect, they sang about our Kurdish ancestors with full grace and clapped through out the song. They were so happy to be together and could not wait to receive their gifts. The school in the camp has over 1000 students and the ratio of female students is higher then the male students.
These students are cramped into small classroom in hopes of learning and educating the mind. The school currently has over 35 teachers in which only a few are paid while the others are all volunteers including a full time principle. These educators work day in and day out to ensure that the students get the best education in the current situation. They make the best of what they have and the connection between the teachers and students is quit touching. By speaking to them and seeing the relationship between these children and the teachers, it was hard not to notice the strong bond they shared. This was quite evident during the gift giving. As students names were called up one by one to receive their gift, they would go up and collect their gift and run directly back to their teachers with a huge smile on their face. They would hug and often kiss their teachers. It was really emotional to watch these kids jump up and down with excitement. It really does not take much to make a child happy. Despite the circumstance, the children are enjoying themselves to a certain extent. Most really young might not understand the severity of the situation. To them it could be just another family move.
As they started handing out these gifts, I came to realize that the shoe boxes are the same ones that are distributed throughout Canadian offices around Christmas time. Each box it filled with gifts such as toys, crayons, books, chocolate/candy, etc. The boxes are then distributed throughout the world to less fortunate children. I was really happy to see the joy the presents brought to the students, teachers, volunteers and families who were present.
Overall, the experience was touching. I was really pleased and proud of each individual who made the event possible. I was thankful for the donors of the gifts and proud of the children for being so brave and strong because it is not easy to live a life as a refugee. Their respect and energy was beyond words can explain. I was happy because the children were happy. At the end of the ceremony, we spoke with Sipan Barzani and the Camp coordinator about what the children are lacking most. I learned that the children are well with supplies but need assistance in other areas such as technological items like computers and modern tools for teaching. Although the shelter and infrastructure of this camp as a whole is well established, the schools need improvements with technological equipment. Funding is needed for school equipment enhance the education the students receive.
After our discussion with Sipan Barzani it was time to go. Although we really wanted to go visit the families and learn about their life and the struggles they were facing, we could not. we had to return back to the office in Erbil. Hopefully in the near future I will be able to revisit the Darashakran Camp to speak directly with the families about their current situation and the life they left behind.
In conclusion, it was an amazing blessing for me to meet all the great people. As I am ending this article, I cannot help but think about how difficult it is to really was explain my experience. The words above have not done justice for how I exactly felt. I truly cannot put in words for you guys how grateful and humbled I am. Words cannot explain what I saw but I really tried my best to explain in a way in which you guys will understand. I wish all the families great success and to all the children I am proud of them and I know one day they will look back at their experience and use what they have gone through to really impact lives. I believe in them dearly and I know that they will not disappoint us. We have to keep trying to assist these refugee students and families to succeed and aid in their education experience in all aspects.