Children all over the world are alone and suffering, but we don’t always see them. When children are neglected, abused, orphaned, abandoned—or displaced, like little Adan*—they often become invisible.
Eight-year-old Adan had a quiet childhood in Tall Qasab in Northern Iraq with her parents and seven siblings. She hoped to graduate from college and become a teacher. Unfortunately, due to societal gender norms, her parents didn’t support her professional dreams. Instead, they wanted her to work in agricultural fields, as they did. But Adan’s siblings encouraged her to stay true to her goals, and she continued with her schooling and her career aspirations.
Then, in the blink of an eye, Adan’s childhood turned upside down—and her old worries were replaced by frightening new ones.
Forced into a new life
When ISIS attacked the city of Mosul, the people in Adan’s village thought the threat was far enough away that they weren’t at risk. So they remained in the village to celebrate the Yezidi holiday of Eid. However, on the second day of the celebration, Adan and her family heard the horrific sounds of gunfire and children crying. ISIS had come to attack their village, too.
Everyone Adan knew was overcome by fear. Thousands of villagers fled to nearby Sinjar Mountain in search of safety. The children didn’t understand why they were going to the mountain, but they ran there as quickly as possible. On their way to the mountain, a group of armed people arrested several families, adding to the chaos and confusion.
“The strange armed people were carrying a black flag, they had beards and they were wearing black clothes. I saw them watching me when they killed people from our village. I will not forget their faces, until the last moment of my life,” said Adan.
Hundreds of people reached the mountain safely, but they found themselves stranded without food, water or shelter. “It was very hot during daytime and very cold at night. I was thinking about the bag I had forgotten at home, the ‘holiday bag’ and the money and sweets I kept in my bag. After nine difficult days without food and water, my father was able to secure a little water for us,” Adan recalled.
Adan’s family finally found a safe place in Iraqi Kurdistan: a new phase of their lives, but not by choice. They first stayed in a school in the Zakho area and were later transferred to Khanke camp. Adan had gone from from living in a house with her family to living in a camp as an internally displaced child.
Coping with child trauma
Not only did the attack uproot Adan’s home, family and professional dreams, but it also ravaged her psychologically. The young girl was still tormented by the violence, fear and destruction she suffered on the way to Sinjar Mountain on that dreadful day. Remembering her attackers, Adan was afraid to communicate with anyone who had a beard, and she couldn’t bear the thought of wearing black clothes. Her trauma even made it difficult for her to attend school on a regular basis.
Children fleeing from violence can feel invisible. Forced to escape the comfort of their home, school and friends, they vanish into an unfamiliar new reality, feeling utterly lost.
Thankfully, staff from SOS Children’s Villages Iraq saw Adan. They visited her tent in the camp and registered her in the Teaching Recovery Techniques (TRT) program.
“I enjoyed the first session and technique: the ‘Safe Place’ technique where I remember my safe place in my village with my friends during Eid and my bag. I also benefited a lot from the session of the ‘Dual Attention’ technique. Although I could not do it correctly the first time because it was difficult for me to recall the bad memories, I kept trying until I succeeded. After two weeks, I was very happy that I could replace the bad images with the positive ones,” Adan shared.
Over the course of five sessions, Adan learned several specialized methods for trauma recovery that made her feel safer and happier. She even taught the methods to her family, friends and neighbors to help them overcome their own trauma.
“Adan was an active participant in the TRT sessions, committed to the time of each session. She showed great improvement, she is now more comfortable speaking with other children,” said a TRT implementation specialist in SOS Children’s Villages Iraq.
Moving forward into a new future
Five years have passed since the gruesome attack that changed Adan’s life. Now equipped with SOS techniques to manage her trauma, Adan excels in school and dreams of becoming a teacher: a dream that her parents now support, as they’ve come to realize that education is crucial for Adan’s future. The now 13-year-old declares proudly, “I will become a teacher in the future and will not give up my dream.”
And remembering the special bag that Adan left behind at her village, her father and brother bought her a new bag as a gift when she earned an excellent grade in school. Adan was very happy to receive this reminder of her old home.
Help children like Adan
Displaced children like Adan deserve to be seen. Together, we can ensure children like Adan are visible and their stories are heard. Join the #iseeyou movement to secure every child’s right to care and protection!
*The name of the child was changed to protect her privacy