Green grass and blue sky as far as you can see. The sun is shining and we are surrounded by nature. Northern Iraq is stunning. But its beauty is deceiving. Almost nothing is left in Bashiqa and its surrounding areas, once famous for olive trees. Almost 12,000 people from different religious backgrounds – Christian, Muslim, Yazidi – used to peacefully live in the small town in Northern Iraq. Today, we can only find 258 families, who returned to the once lively city after it was retaken. The streets are empty. Houses are either damaged or destroyed. We are merely 15 kilometers away from Mosul, Iraq's second largest city and one of the key battlegrounds in the country. The ground is not shaking from fighting today for a change.
Families returning to Bashiqa pretty much lack everything. The city’s infrastructure, including water, electricity and health networks, are destroyed. The extent of destruction is overwhelming.
Faida, a Bashiqa resident with her CARE rebuilding kit. Photo: CARE/Emily Kinsky
Sawsan (33) is mother of four children aged 1 to 16. Her family had to flee to Norther Iraq’s capital Erbil a few years ago and had lived under very difficult circumstances. After her hometown Bashiqa was retaken, she returned home. “We live here together with five other families,” she says. Space is limited and privacy very restricted. Still, Sawsan’s smile is contagious. We asked her where she gets her strength from. She does not know but hope it remains, she says. “Inshallah.”
One of Sawan’s greatest concerns is clean drinking water, which CARE and its local partner Ausra al Iraqi provide together with blankets, matrasses, lights, hygiene and kitchen packages, tarps and winter clothes. “My parents’ house was burnt down, they are left with nothing,” Sawan says. Her husband found a job in a town further away. This is not a given, as not many work opportunities exist in Bashiqa. But his salary is too low to cover the family’s expenses. Sawan’s eldest daughter cannot go to school because transport and study materials are too expensive. The school in Bashiqa was closed due to destruction, which would force her daughter to commute to a different city. “My daughter is very upset with me. She wants to become a doctor, which is of course only possible with proper education. But what should we do? We want to send her to school and know this is important. But our earnings are just enough for us to survive,” Sawan says.
Her biggest wish for the future? “That the school here opens again,” she says. While many schools remain closed, 30 schools reopened on 22 January, allowing more than 23,000 children to resume educational activities. “It is heartbreaking to see that children are not able to attend school while they so desperately want to go. I want my daughter to be happy again.”