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Teens For Yazidis has teamed up with a grassroots organization called Yazda based in Dohuk to deliver the most efficient help possible to the Yazidi girls who have survived. University of Chicago scholar Matthew Barber helped run Yazda in the first year and a half of its inception and has given us invaluable guidance, and a reading of the situation that we can comprehend from a Western perspective.
Since the spring of 2016, Amal Clooney has acted as legal counsel for Yazda, giving the organization further legitimacy when it comes to Yazidi affairs.
Yazda was founded by Yazidi volunteers in the wake of the 2014 ISIS attack that tore apart thousands of families. Yazda has become the de facto headquarters where the girls and women who escape ISIS come to tell their story, find lost relatives and seek direction. Yazda volunteers have recorded the accounts of over 1,300 girls and women. They extract information that can help locate other girls still in captivity and they help place the survivors in a camp or with family. Yazda then provides ongoing support, in the form of food, basic supplies for hygiene, kits for those with babies or young children, and psychological help.
Yazda understands the particular cultural nuances of the Yazidi mentality, such as the stigma of rape which was an insurmountable obstacle to reintegration before the 2014 Genocide. Given the lack of trained psychologists available in the area who can help the survivors, Yazda has successfully implemented simple but effective measures that help restore the self-esteem of survivors and lower the incidence of suicide.
Art therapy is one of the success stories of the organization, implemented at a low cost. Another initiative has been to rent a bus to take the women living in refugee camps to a community kitchen, where they feel safe. The refugee camps are very isolating and the girls living in them struggle with idleness which compound post traumatic stress. There are only basic facilities and no proper kitchens. When these girls and women have a chance to cook and bake their food specialties and bring them back to their community at the camp, they feel useful and joyful.
One of the most effective ways to restore a sense of hope to these girls is a trip to the holiest of sites for Yazidis, the beautiful hamlet of Lalish up in the mountains. In this pristine and mystical place, they meet with their spiritual leader Baba Sheikh who greets them warmly back into the community (despite the stigma of rape). This visibly lifts an enormous weight off the shoulders of the survivors who carry an enormous feeling of guilt around. They can then partake in purifying ceremonies and bond with other girls who have gone through the same ordeal. This renews their sense of belonging and makes them feel human and worthwhile again.