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Fighting extremism through harnessing the power of kindness

Fighting extremism in Iraq through harnessing the power of kindness

By Walaa Musheer Ahmed

We invite diverse voices to contribute to our blog. The opinions in this blog reflect the personal views of the author and not One Young World.

I remember when ISIS first attacked my people. They fell upon the town of Sanjar, a hundred miles away from my home. It was the deadliest attack of the twenty-first century. People went to sleep in peace and woke up to horror. Thousands were killed or abducted. Those who survived fled through the mountains and had to walk for days under the blistering August sun.

They arrived in their tens of thousands in my small city of Duhok, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Memories of those traumatised faces haunt my mind. They carried with them the pain of loss, hopelessness, and shame.

Over 18,000 civilians were killed by ISIS in 2014 and 2015. Kocho, a village near Sinjar, was home to about a thousand Yazidis, a religious minority. ISIS killed 500 of them as part of its attempted genocide.

Creating hope in the middle of a genocide

Women from my region were kidnapped and abducted. Children were forced into ISIS and indoctrinated. But out of these darkest times, my vision emerged for Better World, the nonprofit I founded in 2017.

When the survivors entered Duhok, our people opened their hearts and houses to them. I am so proud of my Kurdistan for being a safe home to over a million displaced people. Most of all, I was proud of my fellow young people who responded to this situation by holding the hands of the survivors, cleaning the facilities where they were sheltered, and distributing food and essential items. These actions inspired me to create Better World to support vulnerable groups in a creative, sustainable, and impactful way. I saw a desire in young people to do good, and I wanted to grow it.

Harnessing young people’s desire to create lasting change in Iraq

Six years on, we have taken on 100 youth employees and have around 300 volunteers. They work together passionately like bees in a hive to improve the lives of the vulnerable.

Better World has supported over 50,000 people, including internally displaced refugees and displaced communities.

Participating in our programmes has built the resilience of more than 10,000 women and adolescents whom we provided a safe space to express their feelings. Women have gained life skills to make decisions and have a say in their families. Girls have been readmitted to school, and 100 women have founded their own businesses.

We have supported the psychological rehabilitation of more than 300 traumatised individuals. We fight extremism by creating a space for dialogue among youth of different religions, bringing them together through sports and art programmes.


Bringing trust back to communities through destigmatisation

We helped a 15-year-old boy who was stigmatised for an affiliation with ISIS. His community status has changed from being a potential threat to being made a leader of a library project supported by Better World. Now, he has the admiration and, most importantly, the trust of his community.


The peacebuilding work is not done, but we will not rest

ISIS continues to mount insurgent actions in Iraq and Syria, and it operates in many countries around the world. In Iraq, the scale of its destruction is unimaginable, with more than three million people having been displaced.

Today, nine years after the ISIS nightmare began, there are still 180,000 displaced people living in tents in 25 camps in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. But we move on with the same passion because the young people of my region have shown that they will not rest. Not until we all can live in lasting peace.