Sarah Wayne Callies: Inside Domiz
February 15, 2013 by Sara Wayne Callies
|Sarah Wayne Callies visiting a camp for Syrian refugees. Photo: Ned Colt/IRC|
Photos by Josh Winterhalt, captions by Sarah Wayne Callies
Actress and IRC Voice Sarah Wayne Callies is a long-time supporter of the International Rescue Committee. After writing about her experiences visiting IRC programs in Thailand and the United States, she is turning her attention to the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
She and her husband Josh Winterhalt recently traveled with the IRC to the Domiz refugee camp in neighboring Iraq. Josh took the photographs and Sarah provided the captions for this photo essay, which illustrates the tough conditions endured by Syrian refugees living in the camp.
Storm clouds above Domiz camp at sunset. Rain and snow this winter have destroyed tents and forced some refugees to sleep outside and exposed.
Snow collapsed the fence and heavy rain washed away tents in this part of the camp. Makeshift bridges over drainage canals were swept away as well.
Electrical issues are common with jerry-rigged wiring like this. Exposed or improperly grounded wires are suspected of having caused fires in several tents. As the spring comes on and it gets dry and hot in Domiz, increased use of fans in tents means the risk of electrical fire will only grow.
Despite the best efforts of delivery personnel, water hoses often drag through mud and waste before nozzles are inserted into the tanks that provide drinking water for the Domiz residents. Refugees told me they believe dirty water is responsible for diarrhea in the camp. They say chlorine tablets were provided for a while to sanitize the system, but that they haven’t received any in three months.
This photo breaks my heart. Parents are doing their best to combat inactivity, lack of education, and boredom in Domiz camp, but it is no easy task.
All washing is done by hand. This family is using the barbed wire fence as a clothesline.
These are all images of the Kurdish flag. It’s almost impossible to overestimate the pride the Kurdish people take in their identity and their history. Their commitment to one another as community members moved me and may well be among the camp’s greatest assets.
A case in point: the owner/builder of this home invited my husband in to see it and asked him to take pictures. He invested his own money to buy the materials, and he and his family built it themselves. Their pride was palpable: a one-room dwelling with solid walls, a concrete floor, and a reinforced corrugated roof that can shelter the family from the Domiz winter.
The art on the outside of the man’s house provides relief from the squalid conditions of the camp. I took it as proof that there is a strong will among camp residents to improve their conditions and that given the resources they will make themselves, and us, proud.
Residents who built these structures decorated them with concrete and paint into a kind of bas-relief mural. The psychological impact of art amidst the mud and collapsed tents is significant, and speaks to a wellspring of creative talent latent in Domiz camp.
We are on the knife’s edge in Domiz right now. There is creativity, intelligence, goodwill, and enterprising spirit but without outlet it could plunge into a tailspin. But with quick action, it could also stand as a global example of brilliant cooperation between international aid agencies like the IRC and local refugee populations. There could be dignity, community, and hope in Domiz if we commit ourselves to the hard work. Let us stand with the Syrian Kurds in Domiz and help them to forge the community they are desperate to create.
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