iraq, mosul offensive, action against hunger, hunger

Mosul: “The generosity of people has really touched us”

When Islamic State took control of Mosul, Saddam Hussein Ali offered shelter to 16 people in his home. Now, the village of Sindanak is offering shelter to his family.

By Florian Seriex

Oct 27 2016

We leave Action Against Hunger’s office in Dohuk, in the north of Iraqi Kurdistan. For over a year, we’ve conducted activities in many villages in the area, to prepare for an emergency humanitarian response to the military offensive on Mosul.

A succession of checkpoints lead the way on the road to Mosul, Iraq’s second city. In the distance, billows of black smoke seem to come from nowhere, casting a very real cloud of uncertainty over the future of Mosul, which has been under Islamic State (IS) control for over two years.

After travelling twenty five miles, we arrive at Sindanak, where a young man wearing a bright white djellaba (a robe) gestures the way ahead. “Turn left after the water tank and the school is right there, you can’t miss the last building in the village.” Arriving at the school, the mayor meets us, smiling warmly. His warmth is a stark contrast to the tribulations the village has been through over the past two years. The battle for Mosul’s impact reaches all over this region, and the village is heavily lacking resources and jobs.    

Saddam Hussein Ali and his family are using the school building as their temporary home, with pupils unable to use the school to study. Originally from Nawaran, a village nearer to Mosul, Saddam and twenty three other members of his family are crammed into the school, after fleeing their home in August 2014.

Action Against Hunger teams are visiting the school to talk about hygiene practices – always a concern with so many people in a small space. In the few minutes before our training begins, Mr Ali casts his mind back to the 6th August 2014, the day his family’s lives were changed forever.

FLEEING IS AND LEAVING THEIR OLD LIVES BEHIND

He remembers his brother bursting into his house. “We have to leave, Daesh are approaching!” The message was clear on that day, and is still a clear memory in Saddam’s mind. Despite the urgency of their situation, he retells the story with a calm collection he seems to exude. “We had to act quickly but neither my brother nor I had a car. We went to my brother in law and quickly found some cars to rent.” The 23 family members crammed into three vehicles and took the road north.

“When we arrived in Sheikhan we thought we’d be able to rent a house, but many people had also fled to the village, and there was nothing available. We tried to stay in the Mosque but it was packed with people. The next day, we went to Sindanak, a village I’d known from doing business around here in the past. From the second we arrived, we’ve been greeted with nothing but fantastic hospitality from the villagers. They immediately housed us in this school and brought us food, water and mattresses. We’ve stayed in the school ever since but we hope we can find a place soon!”

“As well as the kindness of the locals, organisations like Action Against Hunger have made a big difference here. They’ve been bringing food parcels for several months. This generosity has really touched us; there is real solidarity here. We aim for the same thing in our family – back in 2014, when IS took control of Mosul, we offered shelter  to 16 more people in our house. I’d much rather see my house full of people I care about than flee far away.”

Our training session begins. The room is now full of a mix of local villagers, and displaced people like Saddam. For today at least, the school is starting to resemble its original function. Group work begins as the leader of our session talks about best hygiene practices and water conservation methods. These sessions will continue for six weeks, to make sure newly arriving people to area have all the information they need. “It is important that everyone has the same level of information – we don’t have many resources here so we need to know how best to share them,” Saddam concludes. 

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Photos: Florian Seriex for Action Against Hunger