Youth Bridge Development Organisation16 February 2023
Sustaining hope for Yezidi youth in Iraq’s Sinjar region
After surviving the 2014 Yezidi genocide, Farhan Ali and Ghazala Shvan set up an NGO organising rehabilitation and peace building activities for young people and children.
Farhan Ali, founder and general director of the Youth Bridge Development Organisation, and his wife and colleague, Ghazala Shvan, were among thousands of Yezidis who fled to the Sinjar mountains when ISIS attacked their village in 2014.
“We spent 10 days on the mountain. There was barely any drinking water. We survived by eating leaves from the trees,” he says.
Farhan and Ghazala survived the genocide physically unscathed, unlike the many thousands of Yezidis who were killed and the thousands of women and girls who were forced into sexual slavery by ISIS. Psychologically though the trauma of this period continues to haunt them. Their families were pulled apart by the genocide. Many family members sought new lives abroad, and others are among the thousands of internally displaced Yezidis who are still living in mass makeshift camps where they are reliant on humanitarian assistance for their survival.
Emergency assistace to genocide survivors
Farhan was still a university student when he and other volunteers began to provide emergency assistance to displaced members of his community. They set up the Youth Bridge Development Organisation (YBDO) in 2015 to provide basic rehabilitation and peace building activities for young people and children. “I had friends who were captured by ISIS,” he says. “I believed that the best way I could help them was by helping our community.”
Eight years after the genocide, YBDO is one of the few community-based organisations in the area providing social cohesion activities that give hope and a future for the youth in the north Iraqi region.
Over the past three years alone, YBDO has implemented 30 projects. It has managed to repair and reopen six schools in the Sinjar area enabling children to return to school. It runs youth activities, including sports clubs. The NGO is also raising the awareness of young people and women to know their rights. “Unless they know their rights, they cannot ask for them,” says Farhan.
YBDO has also led an advocacy campaign to persuade the traditionally conservative Yezidi society to accept women survivors of rape and sexual abuse back into the community. Farhan notes that recently, a prominent Yezidi religious leader made a speech urging people to recognise that these women were sexually enslaved against their will by the ISIS forces. He believes that this is one of the big achievements of YBDO.
These achievements are particularly impressive with a volatile security situation where bombings are a frequent occurrence and activists are murdered, as various forces continue to fight for control in this region. Farhan admits that as a married couple involved in humanitarian work, he and his wife feel constant pressure; they are always on the move, rarely staying the night in the same house.
EED grant developing team capacity
YBDO initially worked in a volunteer capacity, and in recent years it has received several short-term grants. An EED grant is now helping Farhan to develop the capacity of the team so that it can be better placed to respond to the community’s needs.
As part of this work, the NGO is holding workshops with young people, women, community leaders, activists, and journalists to better understand their challenges and to ensure a participatory and informed approach to future assistance. YBDO will also produce a report with recommendations that will be targeted at local politicians, business leaders and retired military who work in peace building.
Farhan notes that over the years YBDO has developed good relations with all parties to the conflict.
“We try to stay independent. No one stops us from working. That means that the various parties can see the value of what we are doing. We are looking after people in need. We are giving young people a future –rehabilitation, training, empowerment and a sense of hope. Youth bridge is like a school for them,” he says.
Farhan is the only founder of YBDO still living in Sinjar; all the other co-founders have now emigrated.
“I promised that I will stay,” he says. “I remember in the beginning, everything I owned fit into one backpack. We had no money and no car to get from place to place. Now we are planning for Youth bridge’s long-term future. We have come a long way.”
Farhan knows that the road ahead for Yezidis will be along one. “Yezidis have long been deprived of our rights. We have lost 80 per cent of our lands since the establishment of Iraq. We need the international community to support us. We need more access to education and training programmes.” He is happy that at least that through the work of YBDO, he and his colleagues are helping to fill this gap and are enabling Yezidi youth to access education.
This article reflects the views of the grantee featured and does not necessarily represent the official opinion of the European Endowment for Democracy, the European Commission or any other European State or other contributors to EED.