Dear Friends and Supporters of Wadi,
The pictures and news that reach us every day from the Middle East and the borders of Europe, it feels once again difficult to not just despair. Thirty years of work on site and nothing seems to have improved or changed. On the contrary: More people are on the run, there is now a threat of famine in Yemen and Syria, climate change is making itself felt even more devastatingly in the Middle East than in Central Europe, and there is no hope of change in sight.
Instead, we saw the USA and Europe abandoning the people of Afghanistan who had hoped for their support. We tried desperately in August to somehow find places in the few planes that were flying out of Kabul. We witnessed our Afghan colleagues from the Moria Corona Awareness Team on Lesbos follow the news from Afghanistan in disbelief, full of concern for the well-being of family and friends who had stayed behind. The only thing left for them was a tiny satisfaction: they had decided in time to flee their country. There was no consolation to give them, not even hope, just shaking their head in despair. Why, one wonders at such moments, shouldn’t one simply give up?
We have of course asked ourselves this question many times. It has become painfully clear to us in recent years that it has long since ceased to be about the big changes. Freedom, democracy and emancipation on a global scale are no longer topics of interest. Anyone who does not want to come to terms with the hardened conditions today is rather regarded as an unrealistic weirdo or naive idealist. The fact that it is these conditions that will breed the next catastrophe have been completely forgotten.
So it is important – which may sound modest, but it is not – to continue working on a small scale to bring about the changes that seem unattainable on a large scale. It does make a difference whether people can determine their own lives or not; even in refugee camps or written off regions of the world. This idea determines our work and we call it “self-ownership”. First of all, it means: to determine oneself, for example in the sense of physical integrity. This aspect plays a particularly central role in our campaign against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
But it also describes the conviction that what you do or think belongs to you. This may refer to the self-image of a self-organized group, or just to responsible citizens who do not want to be further patronized. Because what often seems self-evident in Europe is by no means in the Middle East: Here politicians who have little legitimacy, religious authorities, families or tribal heads still determine the fate of the individual. And just as often, representatives of foreign organizations believe that they know better what would be good for people than they do themselves. Far too often we hear from so-called “beneficiaries”, that no one has asked them what their needs and wants are.
A Vicious Cycle
It is a vicious cycle: Those whose voice is not heard feel powerless and mute, and lose confidence in their abilities to organise themselves. For example, these major misunderstandings can also arise politically: How often have we heard in discussions that people in the Middle East are culturally different and do not want to live in democratically constituted constitutional states? Nothing could be more wrong: in all the surveys carried out in the region, more than three quarters of those questioned regularly state that they consider democracy to be the best of all forms of government. In Europe there are usually fewer who think that way … But how do we create democratic structures in societies in which dictatorship and authoritarianism have over decades destroyed every form of self-organization?
From Citizen to Citizen
Our work starts with these questions. Together with our partners, we have been providing information which specifically appeals to the personal responsibility of the individual about the Coronavirus since summer 2020. It’s called the “Citizen to Citizen” campaign, and the approach is successful: hospitals, authorities, and even mosques keep contacting us and asking for materials – posters and stickers – from this campaign. They say that, unlike the standardized information provided by the government and the UN, people engage with the content. Sadly UN posters have not adapted to their target audience, giving advice to refugees to ‘stay at home’ and keep 1.5m distance. Only: what is “at home” in a refugee camp? A tent that you share with dozens of others? And how do you keep this distance in a completely overcrowded warehouse?
Our campaign, on the other hand, uses material that does justice to the circumstances and appeals to the responsibility of the individual. We are currently developing posters in the camps with Yazidis, on which grandchildren can be seen with their grandparents:
Above it says: »My grandparents survived the terror of the Islamic State, we don’t want to lose them to Corona. Therefore: get vaccinated.”
Failure of International Aid
All the projects we bring you in this Newsletter have one thing in common: They were developed by the people in the region and not by any agencies in Berlin, Brussels or New York. And not only that: They are all committed to a common goal: change. Lately, whether in Iraq, Syria or in the refugee camps in Greece, we have seen how international aid all too often only serves to somehow cement intolerable and, above all, inhuman conditions. Wherever the ideas run out and the will to change is lacking, the billions come more and more often into play, which are supposed to somehow remedy the situation and unfortunately only very rarely actually do.
Solidarity based co-operation
In the meantime, an aid business has developed that has little to do with the ideas of solidarity-based cooperation. The question arises more and more often: where has all the money gone?
More than two billion Euros have been made available to the Greek government since the start of the refugee crisis in 2015, and yet our partners in the refugee self-help organizations in Lesbos complain that they still do not have proper heaters in their tents. And it was even worse in Afghanistan, where billions and billions of dollars have been spent on development aid, yet even state investigative commissions and audits have no idea what actually happened to a large part of this money.
We have been following and criticizing these developments for decades. But we decided very early on, although there were offers and they sounded tempting, not to get too big, but to keep our clear and transparent structures and turn local projects into partner organizations with whom we now work together in a network.
We owe particular thanks to you! We were able to support so many projects and programs in 2021 with your help and donations. For this, once again, a big thank you from all of us.
Your continued donation helps give some hope that in the New Year – against all odds – in the Middle East things will get a little better in some places.
Please keep supporting us in the new year too.
We wish you, your family, and everyone you care about all the best and happy holidays.
Your WADI team
SOME OF OUR CURRENT PROJECTS:
An overview of the ongoing projects we support must begin with a reference to those who make all of this possible, and these are our long-term team members inside and outside the region, who answer countless questions, solve problems every day, develop ideas and somehow never give up. Without them our work would not be possible nor successful. What counts, as we emphasize again and again, is persistence and the knowledge that change takes time, especially in a region like the Middle East. But perseverance pays off.
There are also positive developments that a few years ago would hardly have been thought possible. For example, when we started our campaign against female genital mutilation in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2004, we would never have dreamed that sixteen years later, girls would no longer be mutilated in regions like Germian or Halabja. Without our Iraqi employees, who, against so much resistance, have never lost the motivation to convince the residents of the villages to spare their daughters this ordeal, this success would have not been possible. A few conferences and workshops in the capital, as is so often done by other organizations, hardly changes the attitudes of people. It was just as difficult at first to convince teachers and parents of non-violent discipline and conflict resolution in schools. Today, however, Wadi works with non-violent partner schools all over northern Iraq. If new challenges arise, such as the current pandemic, which is raging particularly badly in Iraq, our Iraqi team-members have the experience and knowledge to speak to people in their language and how to reach them. You trust them because you have known them and their work for years, often even decades.
FGM campaign: Another region becomes FGM-free:
A new success in the Stop FGM campaign in Kurdistan: in addition to Germian, the region in the south of Kurdistan, Halabja in the south-east has now also reported that the region is in principle FGM-free. No new case has been reported in the past year.
Since 2004, WADI has been fighting against the practice of female genital mutilation in Kurdistan on various levels: through mobile teams that personally educate women and men in villages and refugee camps about the physical and psychological consequences of FGM, through participation in the preparation of the draft law against domestic violence , which also criminalizes the practice of FGM, through media campaigns and through the very successful national campaign Stop FGM Middle East. FGM is no longer seen as a predominantly African problem, as it was a few years ago, but it is internationally recognized that this practice is also widespread in many Asian countries.
In 2022 we will set a new focus: Living with FGM. Because it’s not just about protecting the girls from being mutilated, but also about psychological support and practical advice for the many women who are already affected. How can a happy, fulfilling life be had despite FGM? What does FGM mean for the partnership? Are there experiences from other women that we can learn from? As part of this project, many women are speaking openly about these issues to other women for the first time in their lives.
Mobile teams are currently working in the Rania region and the area around Erbil, which unfortunately are still a long way from becoming FGM-free regions. The project is funded by the World Women’s Day of Prayer and the Dutch Consulate.
In addition to providing information about FGM, on their regular visits to villages in the region, the teams also deal with many other topics related to violence against women and girls, help to settle family conflicts and are in close contact with the government’s newly created authority to combat violence against women. They reach several thousand affected girls and women across the region every year.
Corona education in the region and the Yazidi refugee camps:
Everywhere in Iraqi Kurdistan, the number of corona infections is rising again, while the vaccination rate remains extremely low. This particularly affects people in refugee camps and those IDP camps where hundreds of thousands of Yazidi survivors of the genocide perpetrated by the Islamic State still live. For seven years now, they have been living a life without hope or perspective in tents and emergency shelters.
Like everywhere else, the COVID19 pandemic has exacerbated existing problems here too. People’s trust in government and administration has always been low, and so official warnings about corona protective measures were barely heeded. Due to a lack of education and viral misinformation, many still do not believe that Corona exists or poses a danger, although the virus is visibly rampant in the camps and has already claimed many victims.
The teams from Jinda and Wadi rely on the fact that they have built an excellent reputation as independent helpers over the years and that they are trusted more than official bodies. They spend a lot of time in the camps every day. They provide information, hang up posters, discuss with interested parties and hand out masks and disinfectants. They also strongly promote vaccination. In order to make the dissemination of information even more sustainable and effective in the future, they also train a group of camp residents who will later be independent and self-organized “from the community for the community” – because this is how persuasion works best. Similar to the camps in Greece, “Corona Awareness Teams” are now being set up in Iraq by refugees for refugees.
The project is partly funded by the Baden-Württemberg Development Cooperation Foundation (SEZ).
Since 2004 the play busses from Wadi have been driving out to the most remote villages. They are often the only play opportunity for children and the visit is awaited eagerly. The buses had to pause for almost a year because of Corona, we didn’t want more people to potentially become infected. They were only on the road again for a short time in summer, to the great joy of the children, until the fourth Covid wave also reached Iraq.
The environmental initiative “Keep Kurdistan Green”:
A new focus of Wadi’s work is environmental education for children and young people. Environmental problems are increasing rapidly, climate change is progressing for everyone to see, living conditions in Iraq are deteriorating dramatically due to environmental factors – keywords extreme heat, increasing water shortages, droughts, dust storms, air and water pollution. Young people see and feel these problems. They would like to find out more about it and also make a contribution to the preservation of the environment themselves, but they hardly learn anything about it at schools because the teachers too often have very little information.
That is why the social workers from Wadi, who specialize in environmental issues, go to 34 selected schools and teach the basics there in a low-threshold way. There are also special informational events for teachers.
Much emphasis is placed on practical experience. Schoolchildren get involved with workshops, activities and plays. At some schools, environmental groups are formed which, together with teachers, undertake a greening of the mostly very barren and concrete-heavy school grounds. Bird nesting houses, information boards and insect hotels are installed with a great deal of commitment and enthusiasm. Very realistic topics such as energy saving, waste avoidance or animal welfare find their way into the parents’ homes and so on into society.
The need for a more harmonious coexistence – not only with one another, but also with nature and the environment – is enormous in Iraq. So far, our environmental education has received so much positive feedback that we want to expand this area in the future.
In Halabja we have been supporting the “Green City Halabja” program for years and want to expand it in 2022 together with the city administration and other organizations. Our partner organization NWE sews cloth bags there every day, a substitute for environmentally harmful plastic bags. And if everything goes well, a first small recycling plant will go into operation as a pilot project in December, in which plastic bottles are melted down and processed into new everyday items.
The project is funded by the BMZ and private foundations.
The independent radio Dange Nwe (Halabja) and Kirkuk Now (Kirkuk / Sulaymania):
Wadi actively supports independent journalism and citizen journalism. We want to create spaces for an open and democratic culture of discussion and contribute to the visibility of women in public.
For more than fifteen years, the independent Radio Dange Nwe in the Halabja region has given people a voice and reported on what is currently happening on the ground – through background reports, interviews with politicians and activists and critical discussions. Since 2015, Dange Nwe has created its own program for the many inner-Iraqi refugees (IDPs) in the region: Refugees for Refugees.
Our partners from Kirkuk Now, a four-language online platform, report mainly from the areas in northern Iraq where violent conflicts are still taking place today because they are claimed for themselves by both the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdish autonomous government. This is precisely why it is so important to provide fact-based information from these regions that is not subject to political interests. Kirkuk Now has become one of the most widely read media in Northern Iraq over the past five years.
We are proud to have supported these outstanding representatives of independent, courageous reporting and pioneers of press freedom in the region for many years. Now we can congratulate both of them: Kirkuk Now and Radio Dange Nwe received awards from “Internews”, an international organization for the support of free media, for their work in autumn.
No-to-Violence campaign will be extended to the Sinjar region:
Experiences of violence are part of everyday life for most children and young people in Kurdish northern Iraq. The causes and reasons are diverse and range from traditional gender and family images to violent structures of rule to traumatic aftermaths of the war and a lack of history.
In all WADI projects, the practical implementation of the “No to Violence” campaign is always on the agenda. Since 2019, Wadi has helped to implement this concept in 17 partner schools and helps them find ways to teach and raise their children without violence. Word has got around and we keep receiving inquiries from other schools that would also like to be included in the network.
Now our Yazidi workers from Dohuk will expand the No-to-Violence campaign to schools in Sinjar. The Sinjar region – depopulated and destroyed after the IS attack – is slowly being repopulated. But violence is omnipresent in everyday life, especially the students traumatized by IS urgently need support to develop strategies on how to deal with anger, subliminal aggression and fears.
Support for Syrian students:
After six years, this program funded by UNESCO and the EU is unfortunately coming to an end: Together with our partner Jinda, Wadi has supported a total of seven high schools for more than 6000 Syrian refugees throughout Northern Iraq, thereby enabling pupils to study according to the Syrian curriculum and not, like so many other Syrian children and young people, had to grow up without an education.
Unfortunately this program is ending. As is so often the case when it comes to people from Syria, there is a lack of money. It is now feared that many of the previously paid teachers will have to look for new jobs and these schools will close. We are therefore desperately looking for new donors for this important program.
Self-organization of Syrian and Afghan refugees on Lesvos & Recycling and garbage collection:
The images from the notorious Moria camp on Lesbos went through almost all media last year: Camping tents under olive groves that were suffocated in rubbish. And yes, that’s really what it looked like in the old camp, where almost 20,000 people were forced to wait for their asylum decisions, often for over a year.
Here, too, the tried and tested concept of self-organization brought relief: We supported various refugee groups in taking their matters into their own hands. Since March 2020, the “Moria Corona Awareness Team” and the “Moria White Helmets” have been ensuring that empty water bottles are collected and brought to a recycling facility every day. Not only that: They also take care of the maintenance of the power lines, educate people about coronavirus and organize lessons for school classes in which children and women can learn.
The Moria White Helmets, in cooperation with the Mytillini city administration, even ensure that the area around the camp is regularly cleaned of rubbish.
Koya: Documentation and emergency safeguarding of cultural heritage:
For many years, Wadi has also supported smaller projects that serve to preserve culture. In the old town of Koya, for example, there are buildings from the late Ottoman period, whose extraordinary architectural and aesthetic quality has few parallels in other parts of Iraqi Kurdistan. However, many of the oldest, largest, and finest examples from this era are threatened with decay due to vacancy and neglect during the conflicts of the past six decades. In September, a project to carry out stablizing measures on the historical buildings was finally started and targeted measures were carried out on traditional residential houses and the Great Khan in the bazaar in order to document the historical building stock and to secure parts of the Khan in order to stop the ongoing decline.
In line with the WADI concept, awareness-raising activities for the residents of Koya are also part of the project, which are intended to convey the importance of the extraordinary historical building stock of the city and to encourage security measures to be taken in private houses as well. The project is funded by the Aliph Foundation.
This project takes place in cooperation with the Department of Antiquities in Erbil and Koya, the University of Koya, the Palacky University in Olomouc / Czech Republic and the office of Klessing-Hoffschildt Architects GbR (Berlin).