• Seivan Abdulgafur

Ninevah, IRAQ – Siba Sheikh Khidir, a small village located in the Sinjar district of northwest Iraq, has faced significant challenges since it was attacked by Daesh in 2014. Ten years later, on a breezy day in March, a group of volunteers from the community decided to be part of the recovery process and are encouraging more displaced persons return to their village.

To mark their return home after a decade of displacement in camps, the Siba Youth Group opened a center in Siba, where the youth and other community members can gather, socialize, celebrate and plan their futures.

Proudly standing at the podium was Dakhil Micho Elyas, one of the volunteers who after five years of living in the camp in Duhok Governorate, decided to return to his village in 2019. Unfortunately, due to the scale of destruction and years of abandonment, the village was not habitable, forcing him to temporarily settle in the nearby village of Khanasor. That, to Dakhil, highlighted the need for rehabilitation of the village and sparked the idea for a volunteer group that would do exactly that to support other displaced persons returning home to rebuild their lives. Thus, Siba Youth group was born in 2021.  

"We started the group with 12 members: nine boys and three girls. Our shared goal was to contribute to the revitalization of our hometown. We created a WhatsApp group to stay in touch,” Dakhil recalled.

The need for rebuilding Siba was clear not just to Dakhil, but everyone who had visited the village to check on their homes, including Jalila.

Jalila, 19, recalls their return to Siba was marred with many challenges: “It was scary at first. There were bones of the dead everywhere; there wasn’t clean water; the wells were contaminated; no shops; no school; and our house, like many others, was destroyed.”

 “My younger siblings had to live with my older sister in another village to attend school, and my brother had to travel to the town of Sinuni for work to support us,” Jalila continues.

Once more families began returning, and once IOM began its activities in the region, Jalila and her peers formed a community volunteer group, similar to that of Dakhil’s.

“We formed our group to be the link between IOM and the residents,” Jalila shares. “With IOM’s basic training we were able to help the newcomers. We helped with everything, from registering their names to clearing the rubble from their homes.”

When Dakhil’s and Jalila’s groups met in Siba, one thing was immediately clear: a merger, to concentrate efforts for greater reach and impact.

But there was a problem: they did not even have a space to come together and discuss their ideas and community projects.

“We turned an old market store into an office and a base for their meetings. In the beginning, we didn't even have any chairs,” said Dakhil.

"Pooling our money together, we purchased chairs and desks and transformed a store into a center." Dakhil recalled.

The first community project born out of that shared space was a campaign to clean up the village and remove the traces of war, with a focus on "the streets, the health centers, and other community service offices." Dakhil said.

“Eventually, we started helping the community with their healing through dignified burials in neighboring villages, like Kocho,” he adds.

As time passed, their actions caught the attention of the IOM team in early 2023, who met with them on multiple occasions to understand their needs and to explore potential opportunities to provide support.

The group emphasized the importance of having a suitable venue for events and socializing, considering that after such a long period of displacement the community’s social connections had been disrupted. IOM worked with the youth group to identify a community space that could be repurposed as a center. By the end of December 2023, the space was successfully renovated to meet the group's needs.

IOM’s technical team also created a comprehensive capacity building plan to equip them with skills to address areas of need such as general protection, safe referrals, service and stakeholder mapping, community mobilization techniques, conflict resolution, inter-community communication, proposal writing, budgeting, information management, and data protection.  

The opening of the youth center marked a milestone in the group's progress towards their goal. With increased resources, their new center now boasts a library, a meeting room, a collection of musical instruments, and a kindergarten playground.

“Our journey began when we felt that our people are in desperate need to bring an end to their displacement, to return home, and rebuild their lives,” he says on opening day. “Today, we are able to turn our vision into reality”.

Jalila has begun teaching at the center’s kindergarten, with three other volunteers. “I am proud that I was able to help my people return and get back to normal life,” shares Jalila at the center. “Siba has improved a lot, but there is still a long way to go”.

The center has now expanded its activities to offer recreational activities such as music courses for the youth.

Thoraya, 18, one of the participants of the course said: “It’s like a dream for me as I have always had a passion for singing and playing an instrument like a guitar and Tanbur.”

IOM’s support to the volunteer groups and the opening of the Siba Youth Center was made possible through the Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.


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