Stop Worrying about Today and Start Focusing on a Future

Speeches Shim

Friday, October 22, 2021
Milkia stirs a pot on the stove in her kitchen in the refugee camp near Dohuk. Her granddaughter keeps her company.
WFP Iraq

Milkia warmly welcomes us into her home. We offer to speak outside, but she ushers us into her living room, where we sit down on the matted floor, keeping our distance with our masks. She has three rooms, including a small kitchen with a window. Milkia likes to cooke there and looks at life outside in the refugee camp. There are many passers-by, including a few little shops. 

Her family is from Qamishli in Syria, from where many fled due to the security situation. “We left in 2011. All our family together,” says Milkia. “Only my older son was studying and somehow managed to finish and stay safe. Then he joined us too.”

Milkia admits she got married at 14; she is 44 now and her husband is 70. “It was a child marriage. Look, I love my family but I’m against child marriage, I wish I could have studied more. But I wanted a different life for my family. I educated all my kids.”

She has four children; her older daughter is married with her own energetic daughter, who is two years old and keeps her young grandmother on her toes. All Milkia’s children completed their education, and her older son is in Germany now. “He lives with extended family there, and some of the relatives’ kids don’t speak Arabic and Kurdish fluently yet. Now I am learning English,” she says, with a twinkle in her eyes. “We speak on Skype.” Her face breaks into a smile. 

When Milkia’s family arrived in Iraq, they had only as much as they could carry with them. Like many others, her family received help from humanitarian agencies, and a home in a camp in Duhok, in the Kurdistan Region. USAID, in partnership with the World Food Program, provided food assistance to support Syrian refugee families in camps at that time. “It was 2011, our whole camp received food [assistance]. We had nothing. Until 2016 we received help.” As the families settled into life in Duhok, and many found enough work, the program shifted its assistance for those who still needed it the most. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, many of these families found themselves yet again unable to put food on the table as the virus shut down any existing job opportunities. With the movement restrictions and uncertainty, casual labor dried up and work opportunities were slim. People who had been able to get by, were pushed to borderline poverty. “There were no opportunities. We depended on help again.” In 2020, an additional 39,000 people (both Syrian refugees and displaced families) received monthly cash assistance made possible through USAID support. 

Milkia with her granddaughter in their home in a refugee camp near Dohuk, Iraq
WFP Iraq

As the pandemic persists, food prices have started to rise in past months in Iraq, prompted by the currency devaluation. Amidst this uncertainty, families like Milkia’s continue to receive cash assistance to make ends meet. The transfers are made via mobile phone, and the families can redeem their cash assistance in the camp, or outside at an agent, or even use their mobile phones to buy food, wherever retailers accept cashless payments. In addition to financial support, USAID’s partners are on the ground and available to answer questions, provide additional help, and even run training and awareness sessions on key topics such as hygiene, nutrition and digital literacy.

“I stay home, and look after my granddaughter. My husband is older but is trying to find a little work, here and there,” she tells us. “My brother is in another camp with his family. Many of our relatives could not leave Syria, we hope they remain safe there. One day we would like to go back, but I don’t know if it will ever be possible and safe.”

Right now, the support from USAID and partners means that Milkia’s family are able to focus on their priorities, and build their future. “We could stop worrying. Without the support, the kids may have had to stop studying early, and work. One hundred percent, I am sending my granddaughter to school as soon as she can. Her mom finished school and has just been able to find some work.” 

Meanwhile, Milkia entertains her little granddaughter and reads with her at home, and they enjoy freshly-cooked meals together. “I love cooking,” Milkia says. “Dolma, pasta, molokhia (a delicious soup of green leaves and sautéed garlic). Everything! We’re lucky we can find Syrian ingredients here in the shops. Now I’m getting ready to make lunch. Can I make you anything?”

Last year, with support from USAID, a total of 371,100 internally displaced Iraqis and Syrian refugees received cash assistance last year alone, helping them cover basic needs -- including feeding their families -- during the COVID-19 pandemic. Milkia remains optimistic about the future, hoping that she and all families are able to find true stability again.

With thanks to all partners for supporting Syrian refugee families such as Milkia’s, including USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, Belgium, Canada, European Union, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Republic of Korea, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Private Donors and Individual Donors through #ShareTheMeal.


Last updated: May 10, 2022

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