A group of teenage girls gather in a circle exchanging the latest news, stories of friends and family. Each of their families fled here, to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) late last summer when militants attacked their towns in Iraq. According to the United Nations, they are among 900,000 Iraqis who have sought greater security here. This is Aini*’s story.
Aini*, 15, is at the center of the group of teens. When armed groups took her town last summer, Aini had just completed grade nine. She is mature for her age, but she has had little choice. She is now the main care giver for her two brothers and two sisters. Aini’s mother was killed in Iraq’s Ninewa governorate last August. Her father continues working at his job as a guard in a city several hours away, so the family sees him only a few times each month.
Taking a seat with friends in a neighboring tent, the teenagers compare their old lives with the new. They describe the changes they or others they know have endured.
“There are a lot of differences between here and our home,” Aini explains. “For example, more girls are getting married now, earlier than before. I don’t think girls should get married so young.”
The young women around her nod their heads in agreement.
“But this is because families do not feel their daughters are safe,” Aini shares.
Rates of early marriage have increased as a result of the war, something CARE and other agencies have raised concerns about.
In refugee camps or camps like this one, for internally displaced persons (IDPs), women are more vulnerable to exploitation and sexual violence due to longer walking distances.
“The washing area and bathrooms are so far and separate from where we are living and this is a problem for us,” Aini explains. With future funding, CARE plans to improve latrines, to rehabilitate them for special needs, and where possible, place bathrooms closer to the living areas.
Aini hopes that young people around the world will remember the Iraqi and Syrian teens who are suffering as a result of this conflict.
“We want the world to hear us and remember us,” She says. “We want you to know us and understand the situation we’re living in. Hear our voices, hear our dreams.”
Like teenagers around the world, these girls share their hopes and dreams with each other. Aini, says, “I’m hoping to become a professor of human rights. This will be important for the future of our country.”
These dreams are achievable. But it would be easier to start if they were back in their homes.
CARE is working to improve water and sanitation in this camp for internally displaced persons in KRI. We play a central role in the camp’s waste management, covering waste removal, the desludging of latrines, and cash-for-work programming for both waste collection and latrine cleaning. In addition to supplying kerosene heaters, fuel barrels, blankets, and carpets during the cold winter, CARE has also supported the camp with the distribution of fire extinguishers and training.
*Names have been changed to protect children.