When my Qatar Airlines flight landed on one cold afternoon in Erbil six months ago, I was both excited and terrified. I am inside Iraq. The words almost screamed in my head.
I have covered major disasters in my 15 years as a communicator starting with the conflict in Mindanao, the Asia tsunami, the drought in the Horn of Africa, the massive typhoon Haiyan and recently the Nepal earthquake.
I must admit Iraq, with its turbulent and sensitive context, is one special job that would take heart and guts. I said yes because I felt it is one that I cannot bear to think back when I retire that I said no. Looking back, I am happy I made that decision despite so many protests and fears. My family and a lot of my friends would attest I was undeterred.
Braving winter, my first sight of a real displaced camp took my breath away. Over 200 families mostly coming from Mosul lived in the tents for five months in the camp with nothing but the clothes on their back. I was told of heartbreaking stories that many slept in the parks and unfinished buildings in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, before they found place in the camp.
Many of them lived very good lives back where they came from. Some were engineers, doctors, teachers, shop owners, policemen or farmers. Everyone have decent jobs raising families. One father showed me a picture of his smiling daughter at a grocery shop he owned. He said it is gone – leveled by a bomb coming from nowhere.
But my most touching moment was being offered a space next to the heater to ease the winter cold as I did my interviews. These people have nothing and have been suffering for months but they found in their hearts to worry for my welfare setting aside their own comfort. I would have understood if they were angry and bitter. They were instead kindhearted and generous, more than any of us can probably show.
My succeeding days, weeks and months going from camp to camp, from one abandoned building to another where the displaced of Iraq sought refuge were a non-stop string of a people’s humanity in the face of unspeakable suffering and misery.
It was seldom that people refused to get me into their tents and caravans to share their stories. They openly welcomed me like I am part of the family. I have never felt so special being part of these people whose stories I am trying to write so they have a voice for the outside world to hear.
I wish I am a superwoman to end this despair so undeserved. I am not. But I can use my pen, my camera and my writing skills to do something. That’s the best I can offer. My assignment is to tell the world that each and every person and child in the camps and building deserve to live in peace and enjoy the life that God has given them. I see my effort as a drop in the ocean, almost meaningless in the vast desolation of millions.
When 10 children I talked to told me they have no hope because in Iraq, when one war ends another will most likely start – my heart sank to its lowest. I can’t allow them to give up their dreams.
I told them of my growing up years in Mindanao running away from war that seemed endless in the 70s. I told them I lived through that because I never gave up. Hearing my story and lifted by it, they started sharing their own dreams – to become a doctor, a teacher, an engineer, a cook and even a football player. I have proven that one person can influence another person to care and there will be many. It can start with you and me.
Hopes grew from one story in that one morning I met the children of Iraq. I hope you understand why I am relentless in writing their stories. For me, this is not just a job. This is doing my small share hoping against hope that one day the families can go home and resume their interrupted lives. We can always dream can’t we? Why not dream for the displaced of Iraq? They can come true.
My prayer is that as that the children and families I met and continue to meet will never give up. Join me.
What is every child’s wish in Iraq’s camps? Most likely the same with Miron’s in this video Miron’s Wish.