The storyteller of Bersive

By Reta Lüscher-Rieger, October 2017

Hameed Jirdo lives in the Bersive refugee camp in Kurdistan, northern Iraq. He works daily with traumatised children. Reta Lüscher-Rieger and Raphaela Ehmcke from the Friends of Waldorf Education spoke with him.

“I am Mr Hameed.” Hammed laughs. “Everyone calls me that, so I do the same.” Hameed Jirdo Murad was born as the youngest of six children and grew up in modest circumstances. He was a curious and clever boy, something that he has retained to the present day.

We have been invited to his home, a simple tent in which he has lived with his wife and four daughters since he had to flee from the fighters of Islamic State. It is tidy, clean, indeed, nice here. A few steps made of stones, lined with flowers, lead to a small forecourt. In the tent there is a television. Hameed switches it on. “My favourite channel, CNN,” he says and laughs, “how else can I continue to practise my English?”

He taught himself English with another prisoner with the aid of a dictionary when he was captured and imprisoned during the Iran/Iraq war. Later he worked as a translator for the US military. He had enjoyed the work most while working with a doctor. “Here I learnt something useful – how to save lives. What use is learning to shoot when I would never use a gun anyway?” He turned down the offer to resettle in the USA once the Americans left. After all, he was born in Iraq and this is where he wants to die.

“Now we get to 3 August 2014,” Hameed continues. On this day he is in Dohuk and discovers there that IS has invaded the Sinjar region. His family flees without him on foot to Syria and from there back to Iraq. They meet up again in the town of Zakho and for the next few weeks live without any belongings in a park.

Hameed builds a shelter from poles and blankets; for a few weeks he works as a translator for an aid organisation. Four months later, the family moves into a recently set up refugee camp. “The ground was flooded, there was no electricity and a wood fire was used for cooking,” he says. It is clear that it is difficult for him to talk about it.

Then Hameed recalls another day. It was 15 March 2015 when he started to work for the Friends of Waldorf Education (FWE). He observed how the emergency education team offered activities for the many children roaming about the camp. “I asked myself: why do these people come from Germany to help our children?”

When he noticed the difficulties in communicating, Hameed stepped in as translator. It quickly became apparent that with his human warmth and curiosity he offered a lot more than a helpful knowledge of English. He became a part and the heart of the local team which has worked every day for the last three years with the children in Bersive camp. He was there from the beginning when the provision was still basic and involved in building up the protected children’s space.

In all the chaos surrounding his life he has managed to retain an inner order and joy which he now passes on to the children. He is the one who notices all the details which are so important in creating a safe and comfortable place. Even on his days off he invites children, paints with them and offers training for the parents.

Learning to open the heart again

Hameed never tires in his wonder at the pictures in which the children tell their own stories, thoughts and dreams. Thanks to his training in simple art therapy methods he knows how to guide the painting more deliberately and better understand the paintings.

Alongside painting, it is the storytelling of which he is particularly fond. When we visit, too, the protected children’s space turns silent after the fruit snack has been consumed. Hameed fetches his story box in which he uses a simple mechanism to present pictures he has painted himself which go with the story. He tells the stories in such a vivid way that we visitors also listen spellbound – although we don’t understand any Kurdish.

Hameed has what is so important for the work with traumatised children: love, a childlike joy, interest and openness. The work in the protected children’s space seem to make something resound within him which was there already anyway. He always appreciates learning something new.

Alongside the methods and special skills, the main thing he had learnt during the international deployments was the importance of patience and calm in working with the affected children: “I want to give them the necessary space to open their hearts again. I have not finished learning by a long way but the work with the deployment team always brings something new from which I can benefit.”

He was grateful for the work because it meant that in this way he could also provide well for his family and they had the necessaries for a life in dignity. Hameed’s wife has been following the conversation and adds that Hameed has always been a person who wants to help others.

The work with FWE gives him the opportunity to create a healing environment for children who live in the same difficult circumstances as himself. He dreams of soon being able to return to his home with his family. He wants to rebuild his life there, start a kindergarten and pass on all his knowledge.

About the author: Reta Lüscher-Rieger works in the press and public relations department of the Friends of Waldorf Education – Emergency Education.

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