Iraq: Displaced Woman Helps Children in Camps Overcome Painful Past


A displaced woman from Sinjar is helping children at the Bahirka camp in Iraq recover from ISIS-inflicted trauma by keeping active.

In the Bahirka refugee camp in Iraq, children are partaking in plays and singing songs to pass their days. This is thanks to the efforts of Shaima, herself an internally displaced refugee living at the camp site, who has devoted her time to providing psychosocial support to children following the war against ISIS.

Alongside talking to the children and supporting them psychologically, Shaima has also helped to nurture the young children’s singing voices. She hopes that keeping the minds of these children active will help to alleviate the traumas suffered during ISIS rule, including that of children who witnessed their fathers being killed and who are now orphaned. To those children, Shaima aims to be “like a mother or a friend”.

Shaima told reporters of the challenges associated with helping traumatised children, saying that she has encountered children “who live in isolation and do not want to mix”. This requires special efforts on her part to draw them out of their shells, as she will often use humour and games to befriend the child and enable them to feel more comfortable in their surroundings. Shaima has also worked with organisations that provide psychological support for children to help inform her approach to those she is looking after.

Behind Shaima’s smile and energy, and the joy that she so evidently brings to these children, there lies a heart-breaking sense that Shaima too has suffered trauma, for whom she has nobody to turn to for support. Shaima was asked by reporters what life was like under ISIS’ control, and whether she is helping children with their shock because she also suffered one. Shaima was unable to answer, and tears suddenly poured down her face.

ISIS crimes against women during its reign of terror over Iraqi cities is well-documented, with many accounts of sexual violence and enslavement. ISIS has produced large amounts of written material relating to its anti-women ideology. The group prescribed different rules for Muslim and non-Muslim women, though both Muslim and non-Muslim women alike were severely mistreated under ISIS’ rule.