A participant in an MCC-supported beekeeping project in Iraq shares her experiences of being displaced from her village years ago and sheltering uprooted families in her home today.
I moved with my family for the first time when I was 4 or 5 years old. We are Yazidi (an ethnic and religious minority in Iraq) and because of this, neighbors were making problems for my parents — breaking into our home and taking things.
We left by donkey and settled in another village in northern Ninewa governorate. I grew up there.
There, we had chickens, sheep, an artesian well. We grew wheat, barley, lentils and chickpeas. In the summer we’d cultivate watermelon. I remember in the winters we’d warm ourselves by burning hay on the stove.
We sold the majority of what we produced, but we’d keep enough for the winter. Someone would come and give money for what we grew, then take it away to sell in a town.
By the time I was 18 years old, I was working as a laborer for neighboring farmers during harvests.
Then one day in the spring of 1975, lorries (or trucks) came to our village.
It was a Yazidi feast day — a day when we would go to the temple and visit the graveyards, when we would make colored eggs and eat sweets.
Instead, about dawn, we saw the lorries coming and officials arrived to tell us we had to move to a new place, which was about 3 miles away. We heard rumors this might happen, but no one was expecting it then. (In the 1970s and 80s, the Iraqi government forcibly relocated many Kurds, Yazidis and other minority groups from their land and collected them in towns, turning land over to Arabs who were relocated from other parts of Iraq and making populations easier to control.)
The officials had information on each family and what they owned. Nobody dared to ask, “Why do you move us?” If anybody asked, they would be killed.
We left by walking. We were able to take our sheep and chickens.
Each family had about eight members. We were seven with my mother and brothers and sisters. I’m in the middle — three children were born before me and two after. My father had died earlier.
In the new place we didn’t have enough room for the people in our family. We sold the animals.
At the beginning, life was hard. I worked with my family cutting clay for bricks for construction. My mother was making clay ovens to sell and doing other jobs. Among my sisters and brothers, we had a soldier and a teacher and farmers.
I spent only two years there.
In 1977, I got married and moved to a different village. My husband and I had two children — a boy and a girl. Then my husband died in 1982 from kidney problems. He was 29 years old.
Today, I am alone. My daughter lives in a nearby village.
My son went to Germany in 2014, after the Islamic State group came. His friends were telling him, “Let’s go, let’s go.” He didn’t have a job, so he went. A lot of friends went together. He is waiting in Germany for asylum.
“They have no place to go. Where would they go if I don’t accept them?”
Now I have two families living with me — 25 people in all. They left their village when the Islamic State group came in August 2014. We knew them before. We would visit them when we went to their village. One of the men was a leader in the village and was wealthy, but now he has nothing.
They had to leave behind their land, their animals. It’s a very hard life. They have no place to go. Where would they go if I don’t accept them?
When I heard from Zakho Small Villages Project (ZSVP) that I could take part in a project to raise bees or start a kitchen garden, I chose the bees. In our village, my parents had beehives.
I’ve benefited a lot from this project.
Every day I work with the bees. I put reeds up to shade the hives during the summer and a nylon cover to keep them warm during winter. During the winter when there are no flowers, I boil sugar and water for them, checking to make sure their dishes remain filled. Sometimes as many as 20 bees will sting me.
I received five bee boxes in February 2015. Now, I have 16 bee boxes.
When I divided my hives, I gave two back to ZSVP to give to other families. I also gave eight to other farmers directly. Now, if I want more beehives, I can divide my hives to make more hives. Or I can make more honey to sell.
We depend for our livelihoods on the money that comes from this honey.
Beekeeping is good for me. Because of the income generation, I look after it day and night.
Fawzia*, 58, is part of an MCC-supported livelihoods initiative of Zakho Small Villages Project (ZSVP) that helps people earn more for their families by keeping bees, starting kitchen gardens, raising poultry or cultivating tomatoes. In the background is ZSVP program manager Abid Hassan. He and other ZSVP staff work closely with local communities to identify people most in need and then partner with them in the livelihoods initiative.
* Because of security concerns, no last names are used.