A face is a narrative told in lines, wrinkles, and expressions. A face can change a crisis from “their problem” into “our problem.” A face can turn a far-off conflict into one that smarts with reality.
Wafaa’s face is a bridge from here to there, from rural America and urban Europe to the Fertile Crescent.
Only seven months ago, she, her two sisters, and two brothers lived the life of farmers in the village of Yusfyia, harvesting beans, lettuce, and wheat to sell in the local market. It was not a perfect life. Wafaa and her siblings lost their mother early and were left to fend for themselves by their father. But it was a life they knew. It was their identity.
Then bombs began to fall on local residences, and they and many of their neighbors set out on foot for Baghdad, 15 miles to the north. Wafaa was pregnant on this journey, full of life even as she faced death.
The burden and blessing of the babe was only part of her epic struggle, however. Having Hydatid disease, Wafaa deals chronically with cysts growing on her liver, often leaving her in pain and necessitating multiple surgeries. These surgeries are expensive, not to mention the way they dig in to the quality of daily life. Every moment becomes overshadowed by the anticipation of more medical bills and interventions.
When faced with the loss of home, the loss of health, Wafaa lost one thing more: her husband. He decided he could not deal with the repercussions of her illness and left for another town, another wife.
We met Wafaa, along with two sons, one the infant born after her escape, living in a partially constructed building in Baghdad. Her two sisters with their combined seven children all manage to survive in crowded conditions with only blankets fluttering in their windows to keep out the winter chill and discourage prying eyes.
As Sunni refugees in Baghdad, many view and her sisters with suspicion. In fact, Sunnis are often the most feared and neglected of all displaced groups in Iraq because ISIS is fundamentalist Sunni group. The assumption is, “why help Sunnis when it’s Sunnis who’ve made this mess?”
With Iraq’s Christians and Yezidis getting the lion’s share of support from the international community, we intentionally partner with people caring for Sunni Arabs.
In Wafaa’s case, our team has been able to come alongside her family, providing much needed milk for the baby, doctor’s visits, food, and resources to begin two business ventures. Wafaa and one sister will be making bread-to-order from a steel stove in their rooms. The remaining sister plans to sell treats and trinkets from a cart along the city streets.
It is thanks to your contributions that we can give this warm milk, this shoulder to lean on to Wafaa’s entire family. But not only that, your support of our work in Wafaa’s Baghdad neighborhood is giving this family and others self-respect, a new identity, as they are empowered to start small businesses.
Faces tell our stories whether we want them to or not. We are hoping that, as Wafaa is loved and listened to, that half smile will grow wide with radiance. And her new story will reshape her life and those around her.
If you would like to partner with us to help more women like Wafaa, please donate here today!