Removed from the bustling activity of the city and severed from the vitality of urban life, 1,400 displaced families from Anbar live in a kind of timeless limbo. The cloth of the makeshift tents block them from their dreams and hopes of returning home to live freely and in peace. These families have already lived through so much, their stories astonish and disturb us, yet they are stil strong, and remain dreamers who want to leave their lives inside the camps and once again join the world outside.
Abdulla Khalil, a 23 year old volunteer for the organization Sports Against Violence, is one of hundreds of civilian activists who have tried to ease the pain of thousands of Iraqi families who were displaced from their home cities during the brutal occupation by Daesh — an occupation so large that in 2014, it included approximately 1/3 of Iraq’s entire territory. Khalil wanted to create a moment of beauty in the camp, a reminder of the unity and joy Iraqis know well, but which have stifled by the overwhelming difficulty and disconnection felt in the camp environment.
Khalil brought his idea to his colleagues in the Iraqi Social Forum and tried to convince them to organize a sports event mixed with arts for the displaced people forced to live in the Habbaniyah camp. When the idea won quick admiration from his colleagues, planning for the event began. They chose Habbaniyah Camp, where 1,400 displaced families are divided into seven smaller camps. With support from the Tammuz Organization for Social Development, the managing officials of the camp itself they obtained security approvals to move forward with the exciting new event.
On 23 February, Khalil met up with his colleagues from the Iraqi Social Forum and, after two hours on the road, they reached the Habbaniyah camp located in Anbar province, in western Baghdad. There the group was welcomed by the young volunteers from Peace Forums in Fallujah, Ramadi, and Hit. After gathering of families, the real fun began!
The volunteers organized a 3km race which involved more than 300 children and youth from the camp. Theses young runners ran for a new day, a different kind of day from those they know already too well, days of pain and suffering and isolation..
The top runners received medals from Khalil, and the fun and delight of the race was enhanced by the sounds of music heard throughout the camp. The music came from young volunteers from the Arts of Peace team who spread joy though their playing both Iraqi classics and local music indigenous to the area. Khailil laughed as he joined families in a traditional Iraqi dance, “Al Jobi” . This was indeed just the kind of special day with the families he’d imagined. Smaller children in the camp also participated in the celebration: the Peace Forum in Falluja created a space for younger kids to express their feelings through drawing, where they could also get their faces painted.
Given the hardship and suffering these families have endured, a day of joy like this was no small feat. Instilling hope in people who are forced to live in such a camp is not easy. But Khalil and his colleagues did manage to create moments of joy, to open up the possibility of change for the better. Abdullah and the volunteers he collaborated with carried with them a message that this far exceeded the sports and activities of that special day. They brought a their presence and solidarity with the people in the camps which will endure until they return to their homes. The volunteers may have changed only one actual day in the Habbaniyah camp, but they surely left a permanent mark in the hearts of the displaced families living there. Through coming together, through running and singing and dancing together, they showed these families that they are not on thier own, that we are all standing together.
The Path of Nonviolence and Peace Building masarat (paths) of the ISF organize their activities in cooperation with the Information Center for Research and Development and the Tammuz organization, with the support of the Norwegian Karibu Foundation within the project “Promoting the Culture of Nonviolence and Concepts of Peace within Iraqi Society through Youth”. Also participating are the Orzat Assyria and Noor Ala Noor organizations. This was the second event put on by the masar of Nonviolence and Peace Building, a previous activity was implemented in Arbat Camp in Northern Iraq.
Iraqi Social Forum