I arrived home last night and am thankful for a good and safe trip this summer to northern Iraq with CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams) and in Nigeria under the auspices of the U.S. Church of the Brethren Disaster Relief program.
In Iraq, part of our team’s work was visiting villagers whose homes and agricultural lands, along the Iraqi border, are being attacked in cross-border bombardment by either Turkey or Iran. We recorded their stories and information from local officials. The team is now putting the Information into a report that a coalition of Iraqi nonprofit organizations will provide to governments and agencies in order to advocate for more lasting ceasefire agreements and for caring for the needs of those suffering damage and loss.
Our team also accompanied people under threat of violence because of their speaking out publically against injustice or corruption. Before I left, we began to accompany persons who are publically taking a stand concerning the upcoming Kurdish Referendum. These people are a part of a “No for Now” movement of Kurdish journalists, business people, parliament members, and religious leaders who want independence, but not on the current terms dictated by the ruling parties. They are asking for an open democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights that the current Kurdish government is not allowing. Iraqi Kurdish security forces are using threats, abductions, beatings and other forms of violence to silence them. After I left, the team published a report about these abuses.
In Nigeria, I was part of a “workcamp” of a group of North Americans and Nigerians, to help with a rebuilding project in Kwarhi, in northeastern Nigeria. In the mornings we carried sand, blocks, gravel and other materials for more skilled masons and carpenters to put in place. In the afternoons, we traveled around the area visiting people who, two or three years ago, fled Boko Haram’s violence and sites where communities were destroyed by the militant group. People, who have now returned to their villages, shared with us what they had gone through as well as how they are rebuilding their lives. We saw many church buildings and homes that had been destroyed but are now being rebuilt. We also found local people groups who are giving themselves to helping people meet their basic needs and to restart their farms and family income producing work.
Two years ago, when I spent three months in Nigeria, I was able to visit the Favored Sisters’ orphanage, near Jos, caring for 112 children who lost their parents to Boko Haram violence. At that time the home and school had very little, but were helping these children recover from the trauma and help them go on with their lives. It was rewarding to see that, though they still operate with only the bare necessities and need ongoing outside support, they have new vocation education programs in their school. And because of the loving care they have received, they now seem more joyful and playful.
I was also able to return to the Gurku Camp, a new community built by both Christians and Muslims who live side-by-side peacefully in a rural area near the city of Abuja. When I was there two years ago, there were a little over 70 families who were just moving in. Now it is a teaming community made up of 220 households, with a primary school, church, a mosque being built, family farming plots, and with many small income-producing cooperatives. We visited the nearby demonstration farm run by many of the residents. It is one of many programs several EYN (Nigerian Church of the Brethren) leaders have initiated in order to try to reduce the increased suspicion and hostility between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria spread by Boko Haram.
For me, personally, it was an extra bonus for me to be able to revisit Garkida, the village where I was born when my parents lived and worked there years ago, and see the house I was born in and another house where our family lived.
I am grateful to be able to make this trip and to be able to witness to the loving and courageous way so many Nigerian brothers and sisters are serving the needs of the more hurt or vulnerable in their midst. In spite of the enormous difficulties the people face and the continuing need for basic food security and safe housing and communities, it was hopeful to see the progress they are making.
Thank you all for your loving support! Peggy Faw Gish