Samarra, Iraq, Jan 26, 2018 (AFP) – Threading beads onto a fishing line to make a sparkling ornament, Lamia Rahim is one of dozens of Iraqi women displaced by violence who have turned to handicrafts to support their families.
“It has been some time since we were displaced and my husband can’t find work,” the mother-of-four told AFP.
“It was down to me to take care of the family.”
Rahim, 41, is part of a local initiative set up to help families who fled Daesh and settled in a school in the city of Samarra, 100km north of Baghdad.
In classrooms that have been turned into workshops, women in headscarves work away busily to make some vital income for their loved ones.
“A hundred and twenty-five women have been trained in crafts, including making bead miniatures,” said local radio presenter Iman Ahmad, 51, who set up the project a year ago.
The crafts the women make have already sold at some local fairs and exhibitions and supporters regularly stop by to bring some assistance.
Ahmad says each month the collective manages to make around $1,000 – a sum that is quickly divided up between all the members.
Among the bead mementoes the women make are miniatures of the Samarra’s famed spiral minaret, the famed Ishtar Gate that stood at the entrance to ancient Babylon, and even the Eiffel Tower.
“They help us to live,” said Khawla Jarallah, who fled her village near the city of Tikrit when extremists seized it three years back.
The International Organisation for Migration estimates that some 2.5 million people remain displaced in Iraq, even as more than 3.2 million have returned to their homes.
Many were uprooted by Daesh’s 2014 rampage across the country and the subsequent bloody fight to push it back.
Now Daesh has been defeated in Iraq, but the bitter legacy of their rise, and the years of violence that swept the country after the 2003 US-led invasion, remain.
A sewing machine whirs away in another room in the school where Fawziya Azzaws sits surrounded by colourful fabric.
She has always loved sewing and now she can turn her passion to her family’s benefit – just when they need it the most.
Organiser Ahmad said the work also helps “kill the boredom” of life far from home.
“It is from boredom that problems arise,” she said.
Shifa Qaduri, 40, agrees that the initiative is vital for the women both in terms of income and “hope” – even if life is still a daily struggle.
“The money we receive is not enough to pay for my children’s school,” she said.
“But where can we go? We carry on living thanks to hope. At the moment we may make $25, but maybe soon it will be $50 or $100.”