The Complexity of Belonging

A young boy attends an Easter party, hosted by a local Assyrian community, dressed in military fatigues.

Maryam told us how badly she wanted her children to have new outfits to wear to the Easter party. She wanted it badly enough that she borrowed money to make it happen. The boys chose military fatigues—common clothing to show solidarity with soldiers.

A young boy dressed in military fatigues gets the Kurdish flag painted on his face during an Easter party hosted by a local Assyrian church.

Tribalism and the need to belong are hard-wired into humans—we need tribes. Familial bonds protect. Being part of a tribe means you know who is safe and whom you can count on. A uniform and flag give a powerful feeling of belonging, and for kids who are displaced and have lost everything, there is comfort in that.

Three boys take a minute to pose for a photo at a recent Easter party, hosted by a local Assyrian church. The boys, dressed in military fatigues and adorned with flag face paintings, hold coloured eggs.

But this same tribalism that provides safety can also put us in incredible danger by insulating and keeping you from engaging those outside of your own group. It's a vicious cycle: the very thing that protects us can become the thing that puts us in danger. 

A parent made use of the face paint station to mark his forearm with a flag of his own making, featuring a cross at it's center.

And it's this vicious cycle that constantly threatens Iraqis, Americans, and everyone else the world over. Belonging by definition means others don’t belong. And when others don’t belong, they are naturally excluded, marginalized, and neglected. Yet we need to belong or we ourselves may become neglected! It’s tough being a human.

A young boy colours a superhero while attending an Easter party sponsored by a local Assyrian church.

Our recent party in Kirkuk was specifically designed to bring ethnic and religious sects together so the 'tribes' could interact, even enjoy one another. And it was a success!

It's our hope that these kids grow up experiencing belonging, safety, and home in their tribe without totally closing themselves off from those different from them. By helping provide lifesaving medical care, relief, and parties like this one, you're bringing tribes together—thank you. 

About Erin Wilson

Communications Officer for Preemptive Love Coalition, based in Iraq. Photographer + artist, storyteller + story gatherer, peace maker + bridge builder, student + teacher, unrepentant lover of unexpected beauty.

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The Complexity of Belonging
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