By Tim Buxton | Iraq Assistant Director
It was bright and early when I got the phone call that the expansion to our Yezidi refugee camp in Rwandz was ready for the tents. We had a team staying with us from New York City - good friends from Times Square Church - and it didn't take much convincing to get the guys pumped for a bit of good ole' brute labor.
Buzzing from our morning coffee, the five of us loaded into the car and headed out to the camp - I had the feeling that today was going to be a good day!
We rolled into the camp around 9am with the sun already beating down on us with ferocious heat. Thankfully the heavy tent bags were already laid out on the ground evenly spaced in front of the concrete bathroom and kitchen facilities that had just been completed. A few minutes later a truck-load of Yezidi men and young boys showed up to lend a helping hand in putting up their new dwellings. This small camp was built to accommodate an additional ten larger Yezidi families that were not going to fit at our existing Yezidi camp in Rwandz.
It didn't take long for a little cross-cultural confusion to ensue surrounding how best to put up the tents. The main culprit being the fact that we spoke hardly any of the unique Kurdish dialect that Yezidis use, and their English was practically non-existent. You could safely say that it was a great learning experience for the team of guys from New York. I like to see these situations as a wonderful opportunity to hone my "charades" skills and develop a little more patience.
Much to our surprise things seemed to be going swimmingly when the Yezidi workforce took full control of the the tent assembly, leaving us with the opportunity to play a little soccer with the kids and take in the incredible scenery surrounding this camp.
I decided to wander over to one of the older Yezidi men who seemed to be visibly upset - his eyes peering off into the nearby mountains, welling up with tears. I was not quite sure what to do and I knew I didn't have the vocabulary to really ask what was on his mind. So I did all that I could do, I stood there beside him and placed my arm around his shoulders and silently looked up towards the same mountains.
The first tears began to roll down his cheek and it took everything within me to keep from choking up. Suddenly, he steps back and starts pulling at his chest and waving his hands across his neck, motioning a slit throat that could only mean one thing in this part of the world. I could barely process the amount of heartache he was trying to express to me. All I could say was "I'm so sorry" in my broken Kurdish.
Soon after, the work was complete. Ten new tents had been successfully put up, and the five of us had barely worked up a sweat - aside from the two guys that went off to play soccer with the Yezidi boys.
As we were saying our goodbyes I noticed that the elderly man was in our circle of conversation and so I asked my Kurdish friend to translate for me what the man was trying to convey to me just 30 minutes earlier.
The pain seemed to quickly reappear across the man's face as he explained again how ISIS had kidnapped more than a dozen women and young girls from their group whilst they were still at their home on Sinjar Mountain - wives, sisters, cousins and daughters. Just yesterday he got a call from the Iraqi city of Fallujah where a man belonging to ISIS offered the return of his daughter if he paid a ransom of $10,000. Again, his dramatic hand motions seemed to express more than his words ever could. It was a father's worse nightmare.
What if he did come up with money, could he even be sure he would get his daughter back? And wasn't paying ransoms just another way of funding more terrorism and enabling ISIS to kidnap more women and children. I could barely even imagine what condition she would be in if he were to ever get his daughter back in his arms again. The stories of suicide, shame and mutilation of those who have managed to win their freedom from the hands of ISIS are enough to make your stomach churn.
And as I stood there paralyzed in thought and emotion, my mind suddenly raced towards my own wife and children. What if it were my daughter, what would I, could I do to get her back. What shape would I be in emotional, physically, mentally. Something within me broke and I was overwhelmed with a sense of fear - as though I had just woken up from a nightmare, and yet I knew my family was at our home... safe. But for these Yezidi fathers, it was reality - the worst kind.
I just couldn't look at these men the same anymore, these men who had just spent a few hours putting up a bunch of tents for their new home.
Now, almost a year later these Yezidi families are still in great need - broken apart and broken-hearted, hundreds of miles from their homeland.
Thankfully here in Rwandz Camp they are in a safe place, sheltered by the mountains that surround the ancient town of Rwandz, the once capital of the Soran Empire.
Through the efforts of The Refuge Initiative we have been able to provide 70+ Yezidi families with shelter, food, medicine, electricity and water. But we desire to give them so much more. Our goal is to provide these families with the care they need to bring healing into their lives and restore hope for a brighter, independent future.
We all can make a difference, one family at a time. Just yesterday we began work an another small camp to accommodate a further 9 Yezidi families that are in desperate need of a place to live. Will you join us in praying for and supporting these Yezidi families? You can follow our efforts at The Refuge Initiative's Facebook page and make donations to the Iraq Emergency Fund here that directly funds our efforts to care for refugees and IDP's fleeing persecution.