With the seemingly incessant news of new atrocities committed by ISIS, it’s easy to feel at a loss, to wonder what we could possibly do to help victims of such a complex and far-away conflict. The AMAR Foundation is just one of the charities brilliantly proving that we are not helpless in the face of ISIS, or any other conflicts in the Middle East. AMAR’s staff are working tirelessly both here in the UK and on the ground in Iraq and neighbouring countries to lessen the destruction caused by ISIS and to provide a future for its victims. If you find yourself feeling helpless every time you read the news, AMAR is one to watch.
The AMAR Foundation was founded by Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne in 1991 in response to Saddam Hussein’s treatment of the Marsh Arabs in Southern Iraq. The name stands for ‘Assisting Marsh Arabs and Refugees,’ and its original purpose was as an appeal for those who had lost everything in that conflict. The charity’s work has expanded across Iraq and Lebanon. Their website states that their teams are working to ensure “that vulnerable families have access to healthcare, educational services and emergency aid. We keep the name ‘AMAR,’ which translates as ‘the builder’ in some Arabic dialects, to remind us of our central mission: rebuilding lives.” Whilst the bulk of workers and volunteers operate from Iraq (including doctors, engineers and teachers), the administrative centre is AMAR’s London office, which provides support for work on the ground. AMAR’s approach focuses on emergency aid, healthcare and education. Their website describes their method as “a robust model for sustaining essential services and securing service delivery structures that is proven to restore health, education, shelter and livelihoods.”
The stories of three Yazidi women showcase the successes and strengths of AMAR’s work. The first of these women is an AMAR staff member named Tawaf. Tawaf is a Yazidi from Sinjar, who works as a nurse with one of AMAR’s mobile health teams in northern Iraq. She provides psychological support for families as part of the Escaping Darkness project. Tawaf herself has had her life shaken up at the hands of ISIS. She told AMAR, “in 2014, Daesh [ISIS] arrived in my town and we knew we had to flee.” Whilst Tawaf successfully escaped with her close family, her aunt and uncle and their daughters were captured. “My uncle was killed whilst the women were taken as sex slaves. After a few months, my aunt was released. She was so traumatised that she couldn’t remember her children’s names any more. Daesh had shaved her head and she had cigarette burns all over her body.” It was witnessing the trauma her family had suffered that inspired Tawaf to join AMAR. She says, “it’s terrible hearing about what some families have been through. I recently met a 9 year old girl who was 6 months pregnant with a Daesh baby. It broke my heart.” In such horrific circumstances, it is only her volunteering that gives Tawaf hope for a better future. She says, “because of AMAR, I can provide girls like this with support and help them recover from these terrible ordeals. I can’t change the past, but I can help them to have a healthy and happy future.”
The success of AMAR’s work is also evident in the story of two of AMAR’s beneficiaries, sisters-in-law Zahra and Samir. These two women are also Yazidis who fled ISIS in 2014. In their new home on a deserted building site in Shariya, they enrolled on a free hairdressing course at AMAR’s skills training centre. Zahra said “studying hairdressing at AMAR’s centre helped us forget everything we’ve been through.” Upon graduating from the centre, they set up their own hairdressing business. They use their income to support their 9 relatives. The skills and support they have received have changed their lives immeasurably. “Now that we have an income, life is gradually becoming easier. We don’t have to worry whether we will eat tomorrow or not” said Samir. “I also absolutely love my job. If we return to Sinjar, we’ll set up a salon there too, as hairdressing is a better life than farming and I love working with my sister!” They now provide very cheap haircuts for people in the nearby displacement camp, to bring a sense of normality back to the lives of the refugees there, the way AMAR brought some normality back to their lives.
If you feel inspired to get involved with AMAR’s work, there’s a whole range of options open to you. AMAR hosts a series of events and fundraising activities that you can participate in as a member of the public. They take part in sporting activities and challenges, such as the recent London 10K. They host evening events, including poetry slams, dance classes, and comedy nights. They also regularly hold formal events such as gala dinners and fundraising suppers. One of AMAR’s current fundraising schemes is called ‘My Baghdad Kitchen,’ a scheme through which people are assisted in hosting fundraising meals, using recipes provided by the British-Iraqi chef Phil Juma. The difference you could make by taking part in just a few of these fundraising activities could be enormous. It costs 41p for AMAR to deliver one doctor consultation, 8p to deliver a vaccination, and only 49p to deliver one literacy session to one person. If all you can share is a moment of your time, take a look at how to use social media to raise awareness of AMAR’s causes here.
If you want to take a more active role in AMAR’s activities, consider joining them in a more substantial role. Working on the ground in Iraq, Tawaf says of AMAR’s staff and supporters around the world: “they make my work possible, and it gives me so much strength knowing that we are not alone in this crisis.” See this page for job and internship vacancies with AMAR.
However much time you have to give, if you want to make a difference in combatting the actions of ISIS in the Middle East, get involved with AMAR. People’s lives will only start to change when we realise we do have the power to make a difference.
Find out more about how We Make Change can give you the power to change the world here.
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