Author Dawn Ray serves alongside her husband, Billy Ray, World Orphans Middle East Director.
When ISIS invaded Iraq in the summer of 2014, the people group that suffered more than any other were the Yazidis. Yazidis were thought to be devil worshippers; therefore, Imams told ISIS soldiers that they could abuse Yazidis because “they are sub-human.” Yazidis fled in mass by whatever means they had–many on foot–into the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Some made their way into the mountainous regions along the Iran/Iraq border, where our projects amongst the Kurds have been since 2009.
In the fall of 2014, we came upon a large group of Yazidis living in unfinished buildings nestled at the base of a mountain. We decided to do a medical clinic to help with their needs and get to know them. While at the medical clinic, I found myself talking with the teen girls and began to realize God’s heart and my own love for these people.
Later, in the winter of that year, we were able to provide kerosene to heat their makeshift shelters, and we spent time continuing to get to know them. Now, nearly two years later, we’ve provided homes for each of these families, education for over 100 of their children, and we know their names, their faces, and their stories.
While we’ve focused on providing education for the children, many Yazidis do not always let the girls attend our school. That made me think, “what can stop me from going to them?” The girls’ eagerness for knowledge stirred me to action.
I remember one of the girls kept asking me to teach her English. Of course I wanted to teach them, but as a homeschooling mom and host to many guests, I didn’t feel like I had the time to commit. Instead, I would periodically visit the camp and enjoy talking with the girls.
With a desire to get to know the people living in the camps nearby, I knew I couldn’t spend time with everyone. This spring, I decided to devote one afternoon per week to teaching English to the teen girls at Akoyan Camp.
They were so excited. Seeing their enthusiasm to learn made me want to give them this opportunity even more. During one of these afternoon lessons, a girl came in and turned the TV on while some of us were studying English in the other corner of the room. The girls that were studying were so upset. They turned the TV off and shooed everyone out of the room that didn’t want to learn English!
Talking with some of the girls made me realize that there are few Yazidi girls with more than an elementary education. These girls want to learn, want to read, and some even dream about attending university one day. However, they said they most likely wouldn’t be going to school, even if they were back in their homes. The effects of these lessons are changing the conversation, though. During our lessons, there are always several mothers of little ones who slide into the room to listen. Some even look over the shoulders of the teenagers, as they watch and listen to them read. I can tell they want to learn, too!
When I leave the camp each week, my heart breaks thinking of how different my life and my kids lives would be if we never owned a book. Lately, I have been collecting some books in Arabic for them to read. I have also been collecting books in English from our library at the community center for them to practice reading. I feel like a mobile library some days! My favorite part of our time is when I have the older girls read to the younger girls. Maybe one day some of these girls will want to teach and empower other girls for their futures!
When I think about all the possibilities that the gift of learning to read opens up to a person, it makes me thankful that we are involved in offering education to so many of these children who are caught in a difficult position. What a blessing to be able to offer the opportunity to continue learning in the midst of being displaced.
I have shared the story of Joseph with several girls here who find themselves in a place that is foreign, having lost much, but we see how God can use it as a time for them to learn other skills and things that they would have never had a chance to learn otherwise. I hope to see an increase in the literacy rate among the Yazidi girls/women, while visiting with them reminds them that they are not forgotten.
They begged me and the other two women who serve with me, to come more often. I have a little more time in the summer, so I couldn’t resist them, and said I would come two times a week for now. It is over 100 degrees here now, and we sweat a lot. Seemingly unaffected by the heat, they are eager to practice reading, learn new words, write sentences, and sing songs.
It may just be a little thing I have to offer them, but we pray before we go each week that the Lord would multiply the work we do, just as He did with the loaves and fishes.