Ultimately, we start by asking displaced families one simple question: what do you need? If they recently fled and have absolutely nothing, we start with the basics: food, shelter, hygiene kits, and access to clean water. If their child has a life-threatening heart problem, we help get them the operation they need.
When the essentials are covered, we can explore work opportunities and getting their children into a local school. It’s often as simple as asking the parents, “What kind of work would you like to do?” We have helped parents start home bakeries, corner stores, sewing shops, cell phone accessory shops, fruit stands, candle making businesses, and much more.
How we help depends on the needs of the family standing in front of us. If there is an organization or person more qualified to help them, we set up a meeting. If they just need winter supplies to keep warm and already have food, and enough income, we focus on providing heaters, blankets, and coats. It really comes down to access and need.
As we’re deciding who to help, a more big picture guiding principle for us is to show up where others won’t, to love the people others won’t, and that means leaving the safe zones to help in front-line places like Ramadi, Baghdad, and Tikrit. Most relief for ISIS-victims in Iraq goes to the same places, but huge numbers of people are at risk, stranded outside these safe zones.
If we see they need help and no other groups are willing to go, the decision is already made—we go.
Empowerment (often referred to in our stories with the Arabic word, “tamkeen”) is not typically where we start with a family. Care begins with meeting essential needs and building trust. They need to see that we aren’t just popping in once and then moving on to another camp.
When we show up, we keep showing up because we know it takes more than just a few sacks of flour to help people get back on their feet—we have to show them we’re with them for the long term. Once we’ve reached that point with a community, families often come to us: “My wife and I would like to raise chickens.” “I need help starting a business to keep my kids in school.” “I heard you help people start businesses, and I know how to sew.”
From there, we work to get their business started and we follow up with them to make sure things are running smoothly, which they usually are!
When a family says they don’t need us anymore, we consider this a success. Some families start their business to survive until they can return home, until their home is liberated from ISIS and free of violence. Other families plan to stay long-term. Whatever their goal, we know we’ve done our job when people are self-sufficient. In some cases, empowerment grant recipients have even used their thriving new business to benefit other ISIS victims!