Children who have experienced trauma are forced to grow up early. Childhood naivety and playful wonder are replaced by the need to simply survive and cope with daily life. Children—who most need to be cared for and protected—are suddenly protecting and taking care of themselves.
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Driving through the majestic mountains, lush with green grass and springs bursting forth with water, Northern Iraq is something to behold. This beautiful land affectionately known as “Kurdistan,” has been a refuge to those hunted by ISIS. One day, books will be written and movies filmed about this time in history. Our children will read about one of the greatest horrors of our time. Amid the tragic stories, I hope they will also read of both people who chose to flourish in the worst of circumstances, and people like you and me, those who found a way to walk alongside the suffering.
During those first months and years of caring for refugee families, an array of questions had to be answered. How do we house them, while still supporting their family unit and honoring their culture? How do we feed them, while empowering them to work and provide? How do we educate the children in a way that supports the entire community? After these pressing questions were answered, out of a desire to see these families thriving, we have to seek out the best possible way to provide emotional care for individuals who have walked through some of the greatest trauma known in our time.
We believe in partnership, and we are thankful for the ways that our friends have joined us in this work. In 2017, we were able to partner with Tutapona, an organization that brought intentional trauma counseling to Northern Iraq by working with every family in our program.
Desiring to see additional progress and continued care for these families, Billy and Dawn began to pray about what was next. In an incredible answer to prayer, members of Hillsong London reached out to Billy and Dawn and offered to come and train a few of the locals on how to teach Shine & Strength, “a unique personal development and group-mentoring tool that uses an inspirational, practical and experiential approach” (Hillsong). Dawn viewed this as a wonderful fit for their work in Iraq, as it would help men and women see their value. Dawn said, “it teaches them that they have this strength to decide and to be resilient. There are things that they are good at that they can use to help other people.”
Five people from London came and spent a week training five of the local staff in Iraq on how to teach this program. It was a wonderful and encouraging time for everyone. The women learned about their worth, strength, and purpose. The men learned about their personal identity, purpose, and life direction. These programs are six weeks long, and they use a multi-sensory approach, engaging the individual through visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles.
A group of ten Syrian men walked through the Strength program, and six Yazidi women participated in the Shine program. Recalling her time with the women, Dawn says, “It was a really powerful time the week they talked about potential. They passed out seeds with planters and dirt, and they talked about how each one of us have that same potential. [The women] were reminded that they have encouragement from other people and opportunities to learn and develop things they are interested in. [They learned] how that potential can then grow, and a whole orchard can come from just one seed. They planted all the seeds and then got to come back and see how the seeds had begun to grow.”
As the funding becomes available, we hope to provide this course to 60 refugee families and all 40 of our local team members. We are incredibly thankful for God’s faithfulness, as he provides us with friends and partners, and he inspires other organizations like Hillsong to write these powerful curriculums. Everyone working together brings about beautiful stories of transformation as we seek to wholistically care for those we’re walking alongside.