How Hio’s dream of going back to school was revived

Date: Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Hio Barakat looking at pictures of cash-for-work activities organized by Baghdad Women Association in Duhok. Photo: Mediya Ahmad Shaaban

In 2014, Hio Barakat was 14 years old and living peacefully with her family in Sinjar, in Iraq’s northwest. She wanted to become a doctor. "I was very happy that my friends and I made it to the secondary school. I felt that I was getting closer to achieving my dream” Hio said.

But her dream came to an abrupt end when she woke up one day to the sounds of shootings, marking the arrival of Islamic State (ISIL) fighters. When ISIL fighters seized the city of Sinjar in August 2014, thousands of Yazidi men were reportedly massacred and many women were enslaved. This resulted in a mass exodus of the city’s residents.

Hio and her family managed to escape the city. For young Hio, it was difficult to comprehend why innocent people were being killed for no reason. “They killed a policeman in front of me. They took a person’s life without any guilt. I was scared and did not understand what was happening. I remember the voice of my father calling on us to flee to Mount Sinjar nearby.” She recalled.

The conditions on the mountain were difficult. Displaced families had no food or shelter. There again, Hio witnessed the death of another person. This time, it was an elderly woman who could not survive the harsh conditions and the lack of food and water. “On that mountain, I felt that life ended with the loss of my city, my school and my books.”

Shortly after, the area on the mountain where she and her family had taken refuge was attacked twice by ISIL, so they had to flee again. Fortunately, Hio and her family were flown by army helicopters along with other refugees to Duhok Governorate in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. They were moved to a shelter in the village of Seiji, close to the city of Duhok. Despite living in an unfinished building there, Hio felt that life was starting to smile at her again, especially with her mother’s health improving.

Still, she was still unable to go back to school. Being the eldest daughter (18 years old), she needed to work and help her family. Moreover, the school was too far.

Hio felt lucky to be selected by the Baghdad Women Association (BWA) in Seiji to benefit from the cash-for-work programme. BWA has been working in partnership with UN Women on the Regional Programme “Strengthening the Resilience of Syrian Women and Girls and Host Communities in Iraq, Jordan and Turkey”, funded by the EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis (the EU “Madad” Fund). Hio is one of 120 women in Iraq who have benefited from counselling, training and job opportunities to help them support themselves and their families. 

During the cash-for-work programme, Hio also made many friends. “My enrollment in the programme was psychologically good for me because I met other girls who were doing the same training, and now we help each other out” she said.

Following many courses at BWA, Hio started working as a construction painter. Now her salary allows her to pay for her mother’s medication, buy new clothes and above all save money to go back to school and resume her dream of becoming a doctor.

 “I am closer to achieving my dream of becoming a doctor and providing help to those who need it.”