FBR Report: New Playground, First Burma Ascent of Kurdistan’s Highest Peak and a Program for OrphansKurdistan, Northern Iraq 20 June, 2016
Here is a story of our last days in Kurdistan after our return from Syria. We helped put in a playground in a front line village, climbed Mt. Halgurd – with the first people from Burma to be on top – and then raced down to do a program for children whose fathers were killed on the front line by ISIS.
A New Playground for an Old Village
The villagers of Mirky and its neighbors, small farming villages tucked at the base of Mount Alfaf and directly below the 4th century Mar Mattai monastery in northern Iraq, are Assyrian Christians. They have centuries of history of holding onto their faith in the face of persecution and oppression; in 2014, ISIS became yet another threat. The villagers fled but when the oncoming fighters were stopped by Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers, the families soon moved back. They continued their lives – farming wheat, keeping sheep, growing olives, going to church – within earshot of ISIS mortars and rockets. We got to know them in May 2015 when we stayed in their school, still shut down because the teachers had not returned yet, while providing training to Peshmerga soldiers on the front line just a few kilometers away. We returned again in February and were excited to see that school had opened. Nonetheless, the front line hadn’t moved and these friends of ours continue to live in the shadow of ISIS.
Our friends at Reload Love, who aim to help children caught up in conflict, offered to build a playground here, wanting to give something that would help give the kids a sense of normalcy and be fun, as well as a constant reminder that they are not alone, that people all over the world love and care about them and are trying to help. Together we worked to make this happen and on June 8th our FBR team conducted a Good Life Club program for around 100 children and dedicated a new playground. We had been treating, training and providing eye care for the soldiers on the nearby frontline and during the Mirky program, the medics worked into the night treating the villagers there.
As the sun set, the priest of the village church and the village headman together cut the ribbon to dedicate the playground while scores of children covered it like ants, rushing through the slides and tunnels, playing on swing-sets, seesaws and a merry-go-round. Fathers watched, talking about plans to plant grass and build a protective fence around the whole area. While their children played and laughed, they talked of plans for the future – a future they once again had hope for.
Climbing a Mountain and Singing for Orphans
Halgurd Mountain is the tallest mountain in Kurdistan, rising to 11,833 feet. After Mirky, our mission was nearing its end we decided we had time to climb it. At the same time, we had been asked by a local Kurdish leader to help them with a program for nine families whose fathers had been killed by ISIS. We had showed him photos of our Syria mission, and he noticed that the children at the program looked happy. He said, “I have money to help these orphans, but can you help to make them happy?” We agreed to join their program, and the village the families lived in was close to where we would climb. We planned an early start for the climb and to be back down in time for an evening program.
Our team was 17 people, including five of our headquarters team from Burma. The trail began at a Bedouin shepherds’ camp, and followed a rushing stream up through a narrow valley, climbing steeply until it widened out into a high meadow, freshly green after the winter snow melt-off. Halgurd towered on our right, with lesser peaks rising steeply to the left. The mountains of Iran were in the distance and we were warned to be careful of unexploded mines left over from the Iran-Iraq war of the 80s. We turned across the meadow and headed up a steep gully filled with snow. With only a couple of ropes, we were low on protective gear; with care and a machete for cutting steps we belayed everyone up and across the icy gullies and summited successfully. On the sunny peak, surrounded by the jagged Zagros Mountains, with Iran the next mountain over, we thanked God for the successful climb and for both good work and good fun. Our five ethnic team members are the first people from Burma to summit this mountain. Then we hurried down and on to our program.
A full dinner was laid out and local leaders were present to honor and help nine families whose fathers and husbands had been killed by ISIS. Sahale, Peter and Suuzanne sang “Peshmerga Lead the Way.” The children of the families were all called to the front and every family given a gift. We then gave out GLC shirts after explaining the inscription: “Good life comes from God.” We also gave away soccer balls and jump ropes.
We are grateful for life and the goodness God shows us every day. Sometimes we get to be a part of creating it and sometimes we simply receive it as a gift from Him. Thank you for also being part of the good life God wants to give, here in Kurdistan, in Burma and Thailand and to all people everywhere.
God bless you,
The Free Burma Rangers