Building Hope Together: My Journey from Syria to Iraq

Sunday 21 June 2015

Written by Ibrahim Mahmoud Khalil, Child Protection Coordinator, Save the Children in Iraq.

"We will stay here for a week and then go back home, right?" a young boy asked me innocently in the Child Friendly Space (CFS) that Save the Children opened for displaced Iraqi children fleeing Mosul last year. This question opened a stream of thoughts in my mind, reflecting on my own refugee journey which started two years ago as a result of the four year long conflict in my own country, Syria. The day I left I packed a bag with some essentials and headed to the Kurdish Region of Iraq (KRI) leaving behind my family, an unfinished English master's program in my senior year in Homs University, and an assistant teacher job.

I began working with NGOs soon after my arrival - attracted by working with local communities and by the challenges this job offers while helping others - and began building my experience with agencies working my way up from a volunteer role to my current position as Child Protection Coordinator with Save the Children. Being a refugee myself has pushed me to do my best for the people I am working with. I have lived in a camp too so when someone tells me that their tent is torn I know what that means; their whole world is destroyed for them.

When the crisis started in Mosul and displaced families started to arrive in Erbil, Save the Children was the first organization to respond with child protection (CP) services. It was a hot Ramadan when our CP and logistics teams started setting up the CFS by themselves in a camp for people who had been displaced, which was later evacuated due to the proximity of clashes. It was here where I had another significant encounter; another young boy of around ten coming to me and asking me to play with him while we both were covered by dust. He asked me to stay longer with him and his friends as the space was not finished and there were no staff. This boy triggered in me the realization that I, as a refugee, was in a position where I could help displaced people from the same country that was hosting me and this left me with mixed feelings of pride, sorrow and happiness.

When I see the smile on the faces of the children in the child centers that are established by Save the Children, I see the difference it makes to their lives. For those who are supporting at a distance and don't see this direct impact, I hope they know that they are helping to make this difference too.

"I hope so, we should always be optimistic." I replied to the boy who thought that he would return home in a week. It is almost one year now, he is still displaced and the conflict continues. For me the hope for a better future, determination to overcome challenges and love for a life with dignity have all helped me keep going and I hope that this boy will come to draw strength from this too.