Around four years ago, Mohammed*, a courageous 9-year-old Yezidi boy living in Iraq, suffered horrific burns as a result of a terrorist attack. The only relief his family could give him at that time with no access to medical treatment was to run cold water over his burns. In the midst of this upheaval, Mohammed was kidnapped and held for months by ISIS. When he was finally released, the family fled to a refugee camp and connected with Preemptive Love Coalition, who then supported the family along their journey.
From 2014, ISIS wrought devastation in Iraq, targeting Yezidi people in particular, in a campaign to establish a caliphate. Cities were demolished, innocent people were murdered, and millions were displaced. The attention of Hillsong church was on this region of the world as civil conflict raged in neighbouring Syria, displacing 6.1 million people and driving 5.5 million refugees abroad.* A humanitarian crisis of an unprecedented scale and intensity was unfolding and, as a church, we wanted to respond however we could.
In and around Aleppo, Syria and Mosul, Iraq, Hillsong Church partnered with Preemptive Love Coalition and World Vision Australia to provide emergency relief to families displaced by violence. Hot meals, monthly food packs, and access to safe water were secured for families, along with shelter and access to child-friendly spaces. These simple, practical donations allowed our partners to be able to reach those we couldn’t reach ourselves.
However, the frontlines of a humanitarian crisis of this scale are both global and local. On the other side of the world and at home, we sought to extend practical support to families whose lives had been brutally disrupted by a war they didn’t choose.
In April 2017, Mohammed’s family were granted visas to live in Australia as refugees and they arrived in August. In their bid to continue to help Mohammed’s family, who were now out of their physical reach, Preemptive Love Coalition alerted us to the arrival of the family, and of Mohammed’s medical needs, and asked Hillsong, as the local church, to help.
At our initial contact, the family didn’t know where they had landed, and the confusion around why they were here and how long they could stay was evident. They needed a community and a support network, just like they had in the initial part of their journey.
Hillsong CityCare immediately responded by contacting the local refugee settlement agency, working with a translator, and arranging appointments for Mohammed’s treatment. Volunteers from Hillsong Church and the local community provided transport for Mohammed to attend his appointments for the first in a series of five surgeries that he was required to undergo, providing physical and emotional support to a family still suffering from immense trauma and disconnection from their home and old lives. We were also able to provide the family with furniture and other much-needed items for their home and for the kids starting school.
Mohammed will turn 13 in March and the surgeries have been successful to date. His parents are studying English at TAFE, with volunteers from church providing extra tuition at home, and his dad is soon to get his provisional driver’s licence. However, significant challenges remain for the family, not least recovery from trauma, settling into a new environment, language barriers, health issues, and fear for their loved ones back home in Iraq.
The challenges of the global refugee crisis become localised when a family, fleeing war, has to make a new home in a vastly different country where they cannot speak the language or understand the systems that we take for granted. The isolation often faced by these families means the local church is perfectly placed to be part of the answer by providing a supportive network, in partnership with other local services and organisations.
Whether in Iraq, or Syria, or our own nations welcoming refugees and migrants, we are able to stand alongside families like Mohammed’s, acknowledging their value, resilience and capacity, and partnering with them in friendship to see them empowered to reach their potential.
As a Sisterhood, we desire to be the change for vulnerable Children. Sisters. Nations. Visit www.coloursisterhood.com and follow @coloursisterhood on Instagram to learn more and join the growing movement of everyday women, using what’s in their hand to #bethechange and make a difference.
Reflect. Respond. Rally. #iamsisterhood
* Name changed for protection.
*IRIN Association (2018). Ten humanitarian crises to look out for in 2018. Webpage: http://www.irinnews.org/feature/2018/01/01/ten-humanitarian-crises-look-out-2018 Accessed: January 2018