Across Iraq, the military struggle against ISIS is slowly giving way to the social and economic struggle of reconstruction and rebuilding. The war left many of Iraq’s western and northern cities destroyed and in dire need of rebuilding. Thus far, however, government-led reconstruction efforts have been slow on account of bureaucracy and lack of resources. Unwilling to wait for the government-led efforts, many volunteers in heavily-damaged cities such as Fallujah have started organising their own projects to help the city’s poorest and most vulnerable.
The volunteer groups in Fallujah are largely made up of the city’s youth. Many of them were displaced from the city during ISIS’ rule over the city. Indeed, it was the camps for displaced people where they first started volunteering, in a bid to help other displaced families who had little to no means to support themselves. Following liberation, they have returned to Fallujah. Although many of them are college educated, they have not been able to find any jobs and have therefore continued to volunteer around the city, both in a bid to keep busy and in a bid to support those less fortunate than them.
The volunteers organise in shifts to make sure they are available at all times. Some work on clearing debris and picking up trash while others provide clothing for families in preparation for the coming winter. The number of people in need compared to the number of volunteers and the resources available would make such work seem like a daunting task, but many locals of Fallujah have supported them, allowing them to buy supplies at reduced prices and donating to their cause.
Since liberation, the city of Fallujah has stood out as a major source of grassroots projects to help reconstruction and provide assistance. Other civil-society projects include one that rebuilds schools while giving women life skills while another project focuses on building roofs for damaged homes. Such community-led efforts are a cause for optimism in a city that had a long and turbulent history over the past decade.