Azia - the endeavours of a one resilient woman

Azia in her store with her children
Sunday, April 3, 2022

As a child, the youngest in the family of fourteen, Azia lived in a typical old oriental style house with vast open spaces made of clay and plaster and three rooms. Her family used to farm and tend sheep. In addition, they used to plant barley, wheat (for bulgur), chickpeas and lentils. During those days, her father and grandfather travelled to other places in the north of Iraq to sell their products.

When Azia was nine years of age, she started working on the farm with her family and helped her parents with farming and tending sheep. She remembers those days nostalgically as simple, content and happy days. She has many memories. Memories like the day when she learnt to bake bread. On that day, while Azia's mother had been baking bread on tandoor clay, her mother's health suddenly deteriorated due to hypertension. While they took her mother away to treat her, Azia took over the tandoor clay and continued what her mother was doing. She ended up baking 100 loaves of bread. Finally, her mother came home and saw that Azia made all the bread without anyone teaching her. Azia remembers her mother's surprise and happiness at her accomplishment fondly.

As a child, little Azia took much burden off the shoulder of her parents. Her father eventually sold the sheep, though the family continued to farm. Because her mother had chronic health problems, Azia had to leave school at thirteen to support her. She continued to do so until she got married when she was twenty years old.

Life got to be challenging around that time for Azia. Her husband worked as a driver between Tilkaif and Mosul. Still, their living circumstances were challenging as this was only a modest income. So, while managing the house for her young family, Azia started supporting her husband by tailoring dresses and clothes for people in her community. Her sister, a doctor, also taught her how to inject for her chronically sick parents, so she also continued helping her parents. She later started to provide needle injections for the patients in her community for free.

Years passed by, and Azia and her family survived and lived, if not comfortable. It was not easy, but they were managing. But in 2014, the conflict started in Ninewa and reached their town in Tilkaif; Azia and her family decided to flee. She had five children, and her father in law was living with them also. Her two aunts in law also lived in Tilkaif but didn't have any means of transportation to leave. When Aiza and her family were preparing the car to escape, Azia decided to leave behind her children's clothes and other necessities to accommodate the three elderly in-laws. In her husband's rather old and worn-out car that packed her children and five adults, they left behind virtually everything they owned and knew. When they reached Sharafya, half an hour away from her town in Tilkaif, the Mukhtar of Sharafya welcomed them and accommodated them in a house that was fully equipped and had all food and other necessitates. That evening just as the sun was setting, Azia was cooking for the family. The Mukhtar of the town knocked on their door, advising them to leave immediately as the militants were closing in on the town. They left everything to go on the move again. In challenging circumstances, they made it to Zakho, 106 km away from Tilkaif.

Azia and her family lived in a church yard for some time. And when she became pregnant, she moved with her family to a garage. They lived for four years in displacement until the conflict ended and the family returned home. Once they returned, she found out that her tailoring room and house were all burned down. Life continued as a struggle for Azia and her family beyond the conflict. Azia's two children, her daughter of twelve and son of ten (at that time) had to drop out of school. Her daughter left school because Azia had developed spinal aches and couldn't work to support her family and her newly born child. Her son worked as a labourer and then in a restaurant to support the family to make ends meet.

Recently, Azia, forty-four years of age now with nine children, was part of the Sustainable and Economic Recovery Livelihoods project that World Vision Iraq implements in partnership with UNDP Iraq and with funding from BMZ and KFW. Through the project, she received a financial grant that helped her open a store for her to sell snacks, beverages and food. Through the income she gains, she can buy necessities for her home. Most importantly, Azia was able to return her son to school and now can buy school supplies for her children like stationaries, uniform clothes and pay for the transportation of her children to school. Azia's daughter, who dropped out of school, took an external exam to continue her education. They are looking forward to receiving the results of the exam. Azia shared, "My daughter feels much better nowadays. And from the money I made, I started to buy stationeries, pens and erasers and other necessities for my girls and shoes for my children. From the income, I buy school uniform clothes."

She continued, "(Although) the grant is small, it changed my life for the better. I started to help my husband. The burden on him was heavy. I returned my children to school. And my daughter, who dropped out, is now waiting for the external exam result. I said I must have them return to school. You know that eight children is not a small (number), the expenses of school, the transportation and the stationaries."

Today, Azia has a wish and a dream, and she shared, "Everyone woman can help her husband and children. (Even if) we don't have government employment or education, but there are many ways. I encourage everyone to support her husband. I wish those who dropped out of school to return. I wish for security. I wish my children to grow old and complete their education. Honestly, education is a weapon for women. She can help her husband and children. I experienced life, and now we know that education is more important than anything."