After fleeing for their lives, now homeless, penniless, and alone, we asked the family "What do you need most?" and their answer was unexpected:
"Our son has a bad heart."
We stood together in the overgrown courtyard of an abandoned house, behind an abandoned shop, in an abandoned bazaar. Mazhar and his family arrived from Fallujah the night before. They fled for their lives from the fighting, their Sunni family made unwelcome in a Shia area. They had to leave with no notice, no time to pack up their lives. They left with the clothes on their backs and a thin sheaf of papers–nothing else–and they somehow found themselves in this safe but forsaken place.
The abandoned house and shop were part of a planned community, built a few decades ago to accommodate 23,000 people. The town was the brainchild of Saddam Hussein’s regime. When the ruling Baathists deemed ordinary Kurdish villagers too dangerous to leave in their homes because of their support for the Peshmerga resistance, Hussein built entire towns from scratch to relocate Kurds. Traditional villages were emptied, residents forced to move to the towns built on a flat plain, which were easier to monitor and far from mountain hide-outs. This town was named “The Victor”.
The irony of this was not lost on us. Here was an Arab family finding refuge among the Kurds in the ruined dreams of a community designed to oppress. On this day though, the few remaining structures and winter wheat growing on forgotten plots represented a bit of security for Mazhar's family.
A local official called when they arrived. “There is a new family. Can you help them?” We headed out with emergency supplies: basic groceries for a few days, tea, and soap. We were prepared to talk to the family and assess the situation—every displaced family comes from a different situation, and has different needs.
It was immediately clear to us that this family had nothing. They slept the night before in safety but on the dirty concrete floor of an abandoned house with no doors or windows, and with no blankets or heater to stave off the late winter cold.
The plastic grocery bags of emergency supplies felt heavy when we carried them in, but we quickly realized that this wasn’t going to be enough—they had no stove to cook on, no pots to cook in…or plates to eat from.
“How can we help you today? What do you need most?”
“It's my son. He has a bad heart.”
Mazhar pushed his young son forward, and pressed their only possessions into our hands—a thin sheaf of papers, medical records from the last time Mohammed had seen a doctor in 2010.
They had no physical possessions, nothing to get them through the next days, and yet it was their son Mohammad most heavy on his father’s heart. Mohammad wasn't given any hope for his heart condition by the doctor in 2010, yet his family still hoped!
This family lost everything to ISIS, but they don't have to lose their son. Will you help make sure they don't?
Maybe for Mohammad this town–“The Victor”–will finally earn it's name.