Carrying a dream to be a doctor through the mountains of northern Iraq

Published: 15 September 2014 15:23 CET

By Raefah Makki , IFRC

It’s 15:30 in Khanke, Dohuk in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. We arrive at the internally displaced persons camp with a delegation from the ICRC, the IFRC and the Iraqi Red Crescent Society. Children immediately gather around us, either out of curiosity or out of excitement to receive new guests.

I can’t really define the relationship between the camera and the children we usually meet in camps. After we ask permission from their parents to take photos, the children start posing. They do it like professionals, and their confidence warms my heart.

Often on field missions, there is one person who becomes the centre of attention. For us, it was Renda, an 11-year-old girl from the Yazidi community who fled from Sinjar at the onset of violence.

Renda’s journey was very harsh. She and her family had to walk through the mountains for three days to reach Dohuk. They were tired, weak, and afraid of the unknown.

As she carried her little sister, one-year-old Kadar, Renda talked about the journey. She expressed her worries about the five families of their relatives who had been captured by armed groups; she shared her dream to become a paediatrician. She simply made me feel what her suffering meant in just few words. And she did it with a big smile on her face.

Renda didn’t ask why I was there in their camp. She didn’t show anger or frustration that the families’ needs are increasing daily. She even spared me their worry about the coming winter and how they will survive it. I felt very lucky that Renda enjoyed our chat.

As I moved around and focused my lens on other children, Renda followed me and, at the first opportunity, grabbed my hand and took me to visit her parents and other brothers and sisters. I told Renda’s father about her dream of becoming a doctor and he said “Allah Karim” – God is generous.

We spent some time with her parents, and had a talk about Beirut, where I come from. Renda’s father spoke Arabic very well, which has pleased Renda since we were able to communicate.

It is always difficult to leave. I was not sure what to tell Renda. In normal situations, I would exchange contact details – a phone number, a business card, a Facebook address – but this time, I didn’t know what to say while leaving. Neither Renda nor her father was able to provide this seemingly simple information.

In the silence of a faltering conversation, I realized the real meaning behind displacement. It is not just leaving behind things – these can usually be replaced – it is losing the bonds of community. A home, an address. Somewhere we can be found again.

I felt embarrassed having to leave the camp. Many thoughts occupied my mind. What would Renda think of me? Would she think I was there only to write about her then leave to my air-conditioned room while the temperature in their tent rose above 40 degrees?

I was embarrassed that she has offered me a seat in their tent and insisted that I drink some of the very little water they had. At that time, I felt it was I who was displaced, not Renda.

We parted ways with a smile, a kiss, and the hope that Renda will go back home soon.

For you Renda, I have written this piece, hoping that you will soon go home and read it with a smile and good memory of the Red Cross Red Crescent team. I hope one day you will have your own clinic and that you will be able to help lessen the pain of other children.

Raefah Makki is a communications manager with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. She travelled to Iraq as part of a joint IFRC and ICRC visit with the Iraqi Red Crescent Society and to assess needs for further humanitarian support. The delegation included the IFRC Secretary General Elhadj As Sy and ICRC Director-General Yves Daccord.