Between Darkness and Light

“We used to play together on a daily basis. I used to knock on their door and she would come out and we would play. We played jump ropes, beads and other games. Together we wrote a story and we put it under the ground. We wrote our memories together. She wrote her name, Shaima*, and I wrote my name, Sama*. Now I try to remember where we placed the piece of paper.  I don’t know where it is.”

That piece of paper was the fondest memory Sama had of her closest friend, Shaima, who she lost during the liberation of Mosul from ISIL. Sama’s story is exceptional for a child of just fourteen. Unfortunately, it is not exceptional for children living in Mosul City during the ISIL conflict.

Sama recalled that night she lost her dearest friend, “It was night and dark. Late at night and we were supposed to sleep. Suddenly there was (what appeared to be) lightning, and after the lightning there was an explosion. We learned from the sound that something happened.  The shrapnel reached our house. The window glasses broke down in our house. There was fire outside. I couldn’t sleep that night. I got really scared. Shaima was living with her parents, brother and sister. Only her brother survived and he lost his eyes and became disfigured.”

Sama not only lost her dearest friend, but in a matter of one week, she lost her cousin who was also very close to her. They would share secrets and life stories. The experience was so shocking to Sama that she went into a state of complete isolation. She stopped interacting with friends and stopped eating. Sama shared, “It was shock after shock. We were friends and he would come to our house every day and we would talk, even during ISIL time. But one day he didn’t come, and I wondered why he didn’t show up on that day. We were all in the house wondering. After a while, they came and told us that he was killed.”

At such a young age, she had to endure so much tragedy that is difficult for an adult to absorb, let alone for a child. These tragedies affected the little girl psychologically so that she went into a state of total seclusion and withdrawal. Sama shared, “I was affected a lot by these experiences and I imagined I would also be killed like them. I lost my friends and didn’t like to even go out with others and didn’t even step out to our house yard.”

A ray of light in her life

After the liberation of Mosul, Sama was able to return to school after missing years of education.  One day at school, while Sama was in her fifth grade, some people came to her school and handed her a promotional flyer for accessing a Child Friendly Space. Although she didn’t like it, Sama thought it would be better to go out of her house for a change, so she asked her parents to take her to the friendly space.

When Sama entered the friendly space, she immediately grabbed the attention of the facilitator because of her quietness and isolation.  On her first day, she didn’t participate or communicate with others.  Zahra, the facilitator, remembers the first encounter, “On the first day she wasn't talking to anyone. I initiated talking to her. ‘What's up, Sama?’ I repeated it again. Then, we started a recreational activity that began with a game of peace and living. She started learning about the game and the movements that she had to do.”

Gradually, with time, Zahra and Sama built such a strong bond and relationship that it completely changed Sama’s views on life and helped her to pass from darkness into light. At that time, Sama was thinking about dropping out of school, because she thought she missed years of education. Nobody encouraged her to continue schooling. In fact, her aunt told her that all girls her age stay at home and that school would do nothing good for her. Sama was confused and had mixed feelings about what happened during the conflict, what was happening at her school and how she would be able to complete her education. However, Zahra helped her to think differently and encouraged her to pursue her education. Sama shared, “She encouraged me to study. She helped me in the fifth grade and she was with me step by step.” She continued, “When I got to know Zahra, my life changed. She told me not to let darkness overwhelm me. Without her help, I wouldn’t have succeeded in school.”

At the child friendly space, Sama did a lot of life skill activities but her favorite activity was in the cinema room. There she watched a short film that carried self-confidence messages and was about a girl who was isolated. She got so attached to the story that she later searched for it and found it on the internet.

Sama gradually made friends at the center, which helped her fill in the emptiness and grief that she felt from losing her childhood friend, Shaima. While at the beginning she walked with her sisters to the friendly space, later, when she found her new friend, she would walk with her for twenty minutes to reach the space.  Her new friend is also with her at school and they share the same classroom.

Zahra reflected on the change she felt in Sama “I saw her personality completely changed.  I felt that she became open to people and became able to trust them. She would talk from her heart to people she feels comfortable with.”

When asked what would be her advice to other girls her age who endured tragedies like her, she said resiliently, “Don’t let negative thoughts affect your life. Think of the future and the years ahead. The most important thing is the ambition of the human being.”

Sama, is now looking toward the future with a new perspective and wishes to be a dentist one day.

The Child Friendly Space is one of twelve centers run by World Vision Iraq in partnership with Al Ghad organization and funded by the German Federal Foreign Office and World Vision Germany. It receives 102 children on a daily basis. The twelve Child Friendly Spaces have been helping 6,720 children, like Sama, who have been affected by conflict to recover from their psychological injuries.

*Names have been changed to protect identity.