As humanitarian development work makes progress against poverty, extreme poverty is receding into the margins: places where disasters, conflict, and other causes push communities from being resilient to vulnerable.
See what it's like to grow up and work in conflict zones first-hand from one of our aid-workers in Iraq.
My first taste of what it feels like to live in a conflict zone was in the 70s, growing up in Mindanao, the Philippines’ southernmost island, which has been plagued by conflict for more than 300 years between different separatist and militant groups. Over time, the players in the conflict have changed, but the struggle continues. I have lived in a conflict zone for all 50 years of my life.
I watched how my parents kept a vigil at night when alerts from our village officials were circulated from house to house. Our only source of information was the battery-powered transistor radio my father maintained like a precious gem. My mother would never sleep if it was my father’s turn to be part of the village watch.
My sister, Nanette—now a public school teacher in the same village where we grew up—and I would help my mother squeeze all the important things we could bring into bags during our all-too-frequent evacuations. We learned how blankets can be useful at a time like this—especially when stuffed with clothes.
I have lived through countless conflicts in my life. In many instances, the fear of leaving our home and not being able to return was very deep. When I started talking to the internally-displaced people (IDP) here, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, the connection for me was immediate. Running for your life and your family’s is the most difficult run you can ever make.
The real pain, however, comes when the adrenaline dries up and you realize that you may not be able to return to your home for a long time, if ever. The majority of the women I have talked to in the IDP camps here have that unfathomable hole of despair in their eyes when they are asked if they want to go home someday. They know what they want, but they also have to accept the impossibility of it.
Mothers have the ability to put forward the bravest of fronts, especially during times of conflict. My mother never showed us that she was scared. She would be on top of things and always knew what to do next. Although she was small and looked fragile, she would carry things that me and my sister could not, even working together.
I see the same inner strength and tenacity in the Iraqi mothers I have met.
One of the most striking traits that I have found amazing among Iraqi men and women alike is their special measure of gratitude and warmth. I have never seen anything quite like it. It baffles me to experience their gratitude and kindness given the misery they do not deserve but are currently enduring. It would be easy, even justifiable, for them to be bitter and angry. Most of them are not.
When I met Anan, a 52-year-old mother of five in a Sulaymaniyah camp, she told me that she has forgiven the people who uprooted them from their towns. I was humbled to pieces. I saw both pain and peace in her face. She was smiling when she said forgiveness—I felt her honesty. She believes in giving bread instead of stones, forgiveness instead of hatred, and peace instead of vengeance to one’s oppressors.
I know how it feels to live a life like this. I have been there. Running and settling in a new world different from where we come from is painful and challenging. The only way to face it and move forward is through acceptance.
I know how it feels like to be displaced, but I salute these people who practice a kind of resilience I’m not sure I am capable of.
Cecil Laguardia is the communications coordinator for World Vision's work in Iraq.
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