Restoring a Sense of Community

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, May 12, 2021
Rasha was looking for a way to rebuild a sense of community when she learned about the USAID-funded Shared Future project. Rasha became an active and dedicated participant in the social cohesion component, which brought together youth from different backgrounds to identify shared needs and develop peaceful solutions.

"I lost my friends, I lost the sense of security. That's why we really needed something to bring that back." 

Rasha has always been a people person. As a child on her narrow-alley street in Tel Kayf, a town in northern  Iraq, she was curious about her neighbors and enjoyed taking the time to get to know them. Growing  older, this interest evolved into tight friendships across different religions and ethnic groups. 

When ISIS attacked Tel Kayf and the surrounding areas in 2014, many families fled their homes to find  safety, leaving behind their loved ones. “I lost my friends, I lost the sense of security,” Rasha said.  “That’s why we really needed something to bring that back.” 

In 2018, Rasha heard about Shared Future, a USAID-funded project that helps youth start businesses or find work opportunities and mend broken trust between different religious communities in ISIS-affected communities like Tel Kayf. 

The social cohesion component of the project brought youth from different backgrounds together to identify their shared needs and work together to find peaceful solutions to help their communities. Rasha was interested in this part of the  project in hopes of meeting new people and helping to restore trust again. “I  wanted our town to have peace again,” said Rasha. “I wanted my friends back, and I wanted us to live  just like before.” 

During her involvement in the Shared Future two-year project, Rasha also got married and became a  mother. Despite the inherent challenges associated with pregnancy and childbirth, compounded by  the COVID-19 pandemic, Rasha kept attending the social cohesion workshops. "Being tired didn’t stop  me,” Rasha said. “I was empowered by the learning I was receiving; thus, I was determined to keep  attending.” She was thankful that the social cohesion sessions continued virtually as it helped her adapt  to her new situation and made her feel supported. It also helped her cope with the new circumstances  and the lockdown forced by the pandemic.

Rasha Tel Kayf Shared Future Iraq
Rasha's strong commitment to rebuilding her community drew her to participate in the USAID-supported Shared Future social cohesion program in Tel Kayf.

As the workshop sessions progressed, Rasha noticed that she was becoming a calmer and more  patient person. She learned how to listen to people, including leaders of her community, while also understanding her own emotions. She aspired to become more  like them and absorbed their experiences on how to overcome different hardships, develop new decision  making skills, and find peaceful solutions. “I met so many kind people and we  started building beautiful friendship as we attended the sessions,” Rasha said. “I was thrilled!”  

During the final stage of workshop sessions, Rasha and other project participants of different ethnic and  religious groups identified a need together as a community and designed a project in response. With a small grant funded by USAID, Rasha and her team decided to provide food to families in need. “During the pandemic, many businesses were crushed, and families are struggling to make a  living.” Rasha said. 

During the planning process, Rasha and the team reached out to the local community leaders and  Mokhtar to help identify and collect contact information of the families in need in both Tel Kayf and  Al-Qosh. After verifying that they met the criteria, food boxes were provided to 100 families and  contained a variety of legumes, rice, cooking, oil and even cleaning materials, like sanitizer and soaps,  to spread awareness about COVID-19 and help people remain safe.  

“It was great to see the smile on people’s faces as they realized that someone cares about them,”  Rasha said. “We felt lifted helping people who struggle to live. We sat on the floor with disabled  people, and comforted women as we listened to their stories. Everyone was humble and kind.” 

This experience not only transformed Rasha but her community. As a mother, Rasha’s work with the social cohesion program took on a new level of meaning.  “A woman is her children’s school; she needs to be well  educated and skilled to raise and support her family and her own self. That’s why participating in such  activities is highly important.” 

Last updated: November 01, 2021

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