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For Iraqi Girls Fleeing ISIS, You Opened the Doors to Healing

I can’t thank you enough. Young women and girls who have escaped sexual slavery by ISIS have found safe haven and security, thanks to you. That’s because your support helped MADRE and our partners at the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) open the doors to a brand new shelter and rape crisis center in Dohuk, Kurdistan—the only one of its kind in the region.

The Solution You Make Possible

Women and girls captured by ISIS have endured the unimaginable: abducted from their families, sold at market, forced into sexual slavery. The lucky ones have managed to escape, but they have a long road ahead to healing. 

Recently, Yanar Mohammed, an Iraqi women’s rights activist and leader of OWFI, met with a group of five of these women, mostly under the age of 20, who have escaped ISIS captivity. “The young women are deeply traumatized,” Yanar reported. “Many are not willing to speak. It was impossible for some to even look me in the eye. They will need significant time and support to begin to recover and rebuild.”

But now, they have a safe space to heal. Currently, at the center you made possible, 30 young women and girls, survivors of ISIS enslavement, receive lifesaving support, including medical care, food and shelter. The center, already furnished thanks to your generosity, also offers safe space where we will provide much-needed trauma counseling and mentorship.

Your support also helped supply new winter coats and warm clothes for these girls. Many of them fled ISIS in the freezing winter with nothing but the light clothes on their backs. Now, they have good, warm clothes to get them through the rest of winter. 

Many of the Yazidi women and girls who have made their way to OWFI’s shelter have never attended school. For the first time ever, they are now receiving basic literacy lessons. Your support is putting a powerful tool in their hands – the ability to read, and eventually, to put their own stories into words. I’ve included a photo of one group, hard at work!

Girls, many of whom never attended school, are now learning to read.

Your support also brings vital job training, including sewing and embroidery classes so that the women can find work in their new community. It’s hard for them to imagine now, but someday they’ll be able to use these skills to raise income and stand on their own two feet.

Thanks to you, these women and girls have the tools they need to rebuild their lives in a loving, supportive environment.

Meet Awaz and Fairouz

Crossing the threshold of the center, women are greeted by two warm and welcoming faces: Awaz and Fairouz. Each has been trained by Yanar, who brings a wealth of knowledge from years of working with MADRE to manage an underground shelter network across Iraq. Now Awaz and Fairouz are carrying on that model of protection and support for women. These two young women are hosts, mentors, big sisters, friends and so much more to each woman or girl who enters the center. 

Awaz is trained as a social worker and is making sure that each woman gets the tailored support she needs. She speaks to each woman about her past with sensitivity and strength, and works with OWFI to provide the necessary services. Meanwhile, Fairouz is an educator and trainer. Under the leadership of these two activists, women and girls have been visiting the center regularly for counseling and literacy lessons.

What Comes Next

Thanks to you, MADRE and our grassroots partners will stand by these women for the long haul. We plan to expand the number of beds available, so that we can shelter even more women and girls in need. MADRE will provide training, based on our decades of work, to help Awaz, Fairouz and other OWFI activists strengthen even more their ability to provide trauma counseling. And we’re organizing for doctors to perform not just routine check-ups, but even reconstructive surgery for the most serious injuries suffered by women and girls brutalized by sexual violence.

With your support, Yanar and the OWFI team are seeing these women and girls through their trauma. Slowly, they will begin to remember what it’s like to feel secure. And they will start to imagine a safer, happier future. Thank you so much for making this vital work possible.