The doctor of the survivors: Meet dr Nemam Ghafouri from Bajed Kandala camp

The doctor of the survivors: Meet dr Nemam Ghafouri from Bajed Kandala camp

Dr Nemam Ghafouri is a doctor in Bajed Kandala refugee camp, Iraq. In 2014 thousands of Yazidi people had to flee Shingal from cruelty of Daesh, more known as ISIS. Those who survived, found refuge in the desert. The most of the people stay in the camp till this day. Many of Yazidis are still in captivity of the jihadists.


Ola Karmowska: Nemam, how are you?

Dr Nemam Ghafouri: I am fine! Surviving with the big Ice-Tea cup now! (laugh).

O: Are you in the camp right now? N.G: Not right now! In these days many nomad people are at the nearby mountains and I had a break from the camp with them. I visited and met around 50-60 nomads families up in the mountains above 3000km yesterday. They are going to the mountains with their stocks from February-March and they are staying there till September-October, till the hot days will pass. The simple life and especially beautiful nature is great source of energy for me.

O: I don’t want to waste your precious time that I know you are devoting totally to spend the time with the most vulnerable people.. so please, let me ask you some questions. Some time ago I already presented to the Polish audience, as well as for the donors of “Dom Wschodni – Domus Orientalis” association the case of Yazidi people... Now I would like to ask about you and your work. How it happened that you found yourself in the displaced and refugee camps in Iraq, working as a doctor…?

N.G: It was not planned, and it just happened due to the circumstances. Prior to that I had been to India, I wanted to train myself more in cardiac surgery and at the same time I was involved in charity work for the people there. There I had the opportunity to operate, but even there during my stay I was coming back to Kurdistan (Iraq) one or twice a year for 1-2 weeks at a time, because at this time I was helping refugees from Syria who were living at the camps. It happened that I was here at the end of July 2014 for two weeks mission at Kawegosk camp, just outside Erbil, and then I had some free days to see around, to visit friends and family, and then I heard about what ISIS was doing in Shingal. At the 5th August with my Swedish-Kurdish friends we went to the border between Iraq and Syria to see what was happening actually. It was really disastrous and catastrophic … I changed my ticket, I said, I will stay longer, couple of weeks longer, and then… couple of weeks had became couple of months, and that’s how I ended up here. It was a really, really huge disaster… I called ourselves a bunch of “idiot doctors” acting for half of a million of displaced people all around. They were literally everywhere, every shadowy space was occupied by exhausted, dehydrated children and adults. It was also this kind of heat that we have now. You know, I had an iPad and I wanted to take some pictures, but within just two minutes it was turning totally dark, because it was too hot. And I was putting my iPad into the refrigerator, to cool it down. We realized that there were urgent need for rehydration, water, but also salt replacement, so we called our colleges in Sweden and they sent us ORS rehydration tablets and we were distributing among the people. It was chaos, and very disorganized help and support. Some of the organizations, they were distributing toothpastes and toothbrushes, as a very urgent need. (laugh). We soon realized that the need for clean drinking water was the biggest. We distributed thermoses to make sure that they had save clean water to drink. There were many pregnant women who were giving birth to the babies in these conditions. We saw the need of the safety places for the newborns. We started to distribute this traditional, Kurdish products, a sort of wooden cradle, saves babies from the dirt and so on, then we saw the need for bread, there were many children getting injured queuing to get some bread, so we started the bakery project. Then in 2015 there
was a huge migration towards the Europe. After that, all of the donations really decreased. And we had to basically choose between the clinic and the bakery… Of course we chose the clinic, and from our back sack we started in August 2014, in October we opened our clinic officially after receiving in total three caravans from two different oil companies. Later on in 2015 a charity organization from US, called "LDS Charity" gave us additional caravans and build a roof over the clinic setup so it could protect us from the sun and rain, they paid for everything. We have our clinic also based on the charity donations and since then we treat on average 3500 patients per month. We were just raising money by knocking on the “doors” here and there…

O: So… there are currently no bigger organizations helping you to upkeep the camp?

N.G: We chose to call ourselves “Joint help for Kurdistan” group from the beginning before register it as a charity organization. We were trying to create an umbrella platform for working together. We are basically working with creating a culture of connecting the small organizations and individuals to put their effort together and make a real impact on daily lives for thousands of displaced people. Let me give an example and explain it to you: There are people who are helping and really most of them want to give their money to the orphans only. In the meantime, there are many families in need at the same time and they would not get any help in this way. But if we can organize, for example, in this way: Let’s say, in February this group of children will get shoes or clothes or some other things by several donors who only want to spend on specific group and items. We cannot buy clothes and shoes again and again for the same group, when maybe many other children in the camp are in need of clothes and shoes too. In this way we can support the whole camp, not just the small group of children or people. In this way we all can survive. Also worth mentioning that this kind of behaviour of giving always just to someone chosen and or specific group can create some unwanted tensions among people in the camp. So, we are of course disposing for the most vulnerable ones, cooperating with organization like yours, but also we spend the money for the urgent needs of the camp, to make it better for all of the people living there. For example, if someone would tell me now, in this month: let’s do something special for the orphans, I would say: no, sorry. Why? Because now there is a huge need for iv fluids and other medicines, which are totally lifesaving. Many children at the age of 8-12 from the camp they are
going to the nearby field, planting tomatoes and potatoes, and you cannot imagine how many of them, because of the heat, are returning with the palpitations, dehydration, diarrhoea , so we have to think systematically about it. At the same time, in the camp there is no electricity most of the time. When they cook the food, in this heat, after just half an hour, the food will be totally rotten, because of the temperature that is there. The children do not realize it is dangerous to eat it, they are hungry, so they eat it and get sick. So we have to give them afterwards medicine, also antibiotics and intravenous fluids. So sometimes I am saying: No, please, I am begging you, no more toys for now, if you want to spend your money, please, give us for the medicines at this time! To answer your question so no, no big organization has ever given us any help or support, but we do our best to help together with good-hearted people like yourself and many other generous people.

O: Can you tell me, what is most needed now in the camp? What are the major challenges?

N.G: For now, really, the medicine. Because of the weather and electricity situation that we have. The people cannot sleep at night. The temperature during the nigh time is dropping just to 36-38 degrees. And the electricity is available just during the midnight till 4 o’clock in the morning. So when the electricity is gone, the fans are not working anymore, they are all awaken, they cannot sleep anymore in this heat. And they cannot sleep outside the tents as well, because at this time the sun is already up. Also, the shortage of the water is the big problem. The quality of the water here is not so good, and the quantity is also not enough. The government is always repeating the same: this is the situation in the entire country. And I reply yes, it is, but at least the rest of the people are living in proper house and building and could get away from direct sun light, but my people in the camp they have only diaphanous tents that makes no different and not protecting them from the heat. Many people want to go back to see their homes, to rebuild them, but they are afraid: their home grounds have became the field of the different political parties and militaries, Iraqi government,
Kurdish government, Turkish government, Iranian governments plus all the outsiders such as US and its alliances and Russia and its alliances. I am sure you know that Turkish government bombed the Shingal area and nobody is talking about it. I have been to the UN meeting in May, concerning migration, how to rebuild peoples’ lives and dignity, and they were talking about the global warming as a main cause of the migration. I said: “you must be joking here”. Just two weeks ago Turkey bombed the area where 15000 people escaped from the genocide are living and nobody said anything to this country. And of course everybody knew it, because to let legally aircrafts through the borders it is required for America to know, as well as Russia. I am sure everybody knew Turkey was going to bomb the area, but nobody stopped them.

O: Why you think the migration to the West is changing so much as well Christians and Muslim people? Do you think this can happen also to the Yazidi people migrating to the West? What you generally think about migration process?

N.G: I don’t have any scientific study to support my theory, although I recall some publication about the migrated people from Pakistan to UK and what the parents think about the homeland and what the children feel about it. In general, what the first generation will think about the old homeland as time passes by is getting more and more kind of "dreamy", it is more what they dream to remember about "old time" back home, the norms, the culture, the everyday life, the food, etc.. . They describe a life that is far from reality and when they go back to visit with their children it would be a cultural crash for them. This is not only due to they mentally have stayed in a kind of time stagnation but also the development process in their homeland. Second generation in the new land might still have some close bonds but as we go further the bonds get weaker and weaker, by third generation at best something is left when it comes to clothes and food but then even these would become only a memory from a picture in family album. If the migration is for the sake of preserving the culture, then definitely it is wrong. It will just complete and finish the “job” where ISIS has left it. We don't need to repeat history to learn the lesson and then regret it when it is too late. On the other hand, If the migration is about a quick way to create a comfortable life for those who have suffered tremendous inhumanity and a short-term solution for the guilt feeling that everyone feels by allowing one of the worst genocide in our modern time happening… Then yes, everyone deserve a better life far from an unwanted war that has been forced to face.

O: The West seems to see now two methods to "solve" the problems of the Middle East and to make peace: First, to take in the refugees and migrants to their countries or to arm the weaker ones in the battle there. In your opinion, do you think these two methods are disappointing? What
in your opinion is another real way to achieve the peace? Can we make order in the world without weapons?

N.G: Western world must start to find alternative ways of keeping unemployment rate low rather than by keeping weapon production going on and on. Since after the World War II they have been producing and advancing in “killing machines” and each year filling their storage. Of course they need to sell and keep producing, so the best way is to maintain the war(s) somewhere in others’ soils, far from their own countries. What we have seen in this new era created by ISIS is that the distance is shrinking more and more and war reaches everyone's home. This should be a wake up call for them, that they could not anymore support and maintain luxurious life of their own territories through the suffering of the others. Stop of weapon production and investment in alternative energy resource instead would help, so then not only there won't be any greediness about others natural resources and the endless thirst for black liquid (oil), but healthier investment in better life in peace and harmony.

Interview by: Ola Karmowska

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