BAJED KANDALA CAMP 2, IRAQ
Women line up outside the medical clinic at the Bajed Kandala 2 camp in northern Iraq. Their faces are marked by the elements; their long white dresses darkened by the dust of their journey.
One speaks of the road that brought her here, just miles from the borders of Syria and Turkey, and wonders out loud if she would be better off dead.
Nemam Ghafouri, a Muslim surgeon who runs the medical clinic at the camp, talks to the women about their health. She reports that they are eating bread twice a day with the rest of the 16,000 internally displaced people — almost all Yezidi — here and in the Bajed Kandala 1 camp across the road. And, she says, they are staying dry in one of the thousands of tents that dot this landscape.
Winter is coming to the Kurdish region of Iraq, but staying warm isn’t all the women worry about. Instead, one points to her soiled dress — the dress she was wearing when the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria drove her from her village. The dress is a symbol of her faith, part of her religious identity.
Then she weeps as Dr. Ghafouri gives her a new white dress. The dress was made in the traditional method on sewing machines and with fabric provided by LDS Charities.
War and internal tensions and divisions continue to polarize Iraq, where more than 1 million people like these Yezidi women have fled their homes. Sectarian tensions continue to feed instability in the region. And refugees from the Syrian conflict continue to cross the border, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
LDS Charities — the humanitarian arm of the Church — is partnering with other organizations to help those impacted by the crisis. One of these organizations is the British-based AMAR. Their partnership with LDS Charities includes a computer training center at the Erbil School for the Deaf and a sewing center at the Erbil Psychiatric Hospital.
At the sewing center, patients and staff make the white dresses worn by Yezidi women and many other items for underserved people in northern Iraq. “Fundamental to looking after someone is finding where they came from and what they need,” said Baroness Emma Nicholson, founder of AMAR.
The Yezidis are a Kurdish ethno-religious community that live, for the most part, in Northern Iraq. In August 2014 the Yezidis were targeted by ISIS.
Bahar Ali, the project manager for AMAR in the capital city of Erbil, said the white dresses are an important part of the Yezidi identity. “This group of people had nothing to wear,” she said, noting that they fled their homes with just the clothes on their backs. “When they came their identity was at risk.”
The dresses, because of their traditional design and religious significance, couldn’t be purchased. They are not sold in a store or manufactured by a company. The dresses had to be made.
Representatives of LDS Charities — who identified and understood the importance of religious clothing — immediately set to work on the cause, arranging to have the “special and unique dresses made.”
Dr. Ghafouri said she can see joy in the faces of the women when they receive their white dresses.
“They feel we are respecting them because we have brought something very special, very specific to them,” she said. “It is a simple gift but for them it means a lot.”
Besides the unique dresses, Dr. Ghafouri said LDS Charities has provided medical supplies and equipment and food for the camps.
Dr. Ghafouri said LDS Charities takes the time to know those they serve. “They understand the culture and they give what people need,” she said.
Salman Ahmad, who works in the sewing center in Erbil and has been sewing the dresses for the last month and a half, said the dresses are “designed specifically” for Yezidi women.
“We are tailoring specific clothing,” said Gulnaz Sabir. “We are doing this with happiness because there are people that need help and we can help them.”