In 2014, I had never heard of the Yazidi. Few of us had heard of this small ethnic group living in secluded settlements in the Middle East, predominantly in Kurdish Iraq, but also in Syria, Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia. It was tragedy that brought them to our attention.  
On August 3rd, 2014, ISIS forced the Yazidi population in Iraq to Mount Sinjar. Here, more than 3000 were killed, and 7000 kidnapped. Thousands were tortured, held hostage, and forced to convert to Islam. Young boys were separated from their families and placed with ISIS fighters, and young girls and women were raped and sold on Arab markets. By 2015, upwards of 71% of the global Yazidi population (an estimated one million people) was displaced by the genocide.
We met survivors of the genocide, and the stories we heard shattered us. I remember talking to a young woman, still not 20 years old. She had been under ISIS captivity, abused, and raped for years. Although she appreciated being liberated after years of torture, she was still in terrible torment. Her life was clouded with horrible memories and shame. “I will never be able to live a normal life, get married, and have children,” she lamented. “Nobody wants a person as dirty as me.”

She was held captive, abused and starved for several years

Ten years later, the Yazidis still suffer the aftermath of the genocide. And not just the 2014 genocide but also the 73 separate genocides they have sustained during the last 800 years. Not only have the Yazidis experienced their own individual trauma, but they have also experienced a collective and transgenerational trauma, which is passed on to the next generations.
The regularity of mental disorders is estimated to be much higher in survivors of rape, military action, captivity, internment for ethnic or political reasons, or genocide. Consequently, the psychosocial impact of war in these IDP camps is exceptionally high, and many Yazidis suffer from severe mental health problems.
Research done by Jan Ilhan, Thomas Berger, Laura Sennhauser, and Thomas Wenzel in 2023[1] showed that a staggering 97.1% of formerly enslaved Yazidi women suffer from mental stress, 90.6% suffer from war trauma, or PTSD  (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and more than 38% are considering suicide. Researchers also found that the Yazidis who were exposed to violence showed the highest percentage of unemployment, had the lowest education level, and also showed lower scores for general physical health. It was also suggested that the poor conditions in the refugee camps after the captivity by ISIS also added to the occurrence of PTSD and other stress symptoms.  
The children of ISIS victims and survivors are growing up in these camps that were meant to be temporary shelters. Ten years is a long time to live in a tent. Ten years is longer than many of these children have been alive. The displaced families have been living temporarily for ten years. Most of them have no stable income. Livelihood is a daily challenge. Schools are underfunded and, therefore, insufficient to meet the needs of the hundreds of children going to school. Hygiene and sanitation are terrible. Food is scarce. Humanitarian aid has dwindled. Add to this that most of the adults are suffering from a mental disorder due to the trauma inflicted by ISIS. And then, add the fear that the government’s threat to close the camps down will come to pass.

Yazidi children in a camp in Duhuk

The government is threatening to remove all funding for healthcare and education as a way to force the displaced to leave. But where shall they? What do they have to go back to? Villages in ruins, the memories of the slaughter they witnessed, an area that is still under regular attacks, from Turkey as well as local militants.  
This is why Novi has started a partnership with a local Yazidi organization. Their resilience and commitment to children and education made us ask if we could come alongside them. We have not suffered like they have, endured the same trials, or seen as much be lost. But our goals for the Yazidi children align.
“We have seen and endured many tragedies. We have survived 74 genocides. We have fled into caves and lived under bridges. We have been living in tents bearing summer heat and winter cold. Nevertheless, we have been taught by kids who have lost everything to war but still smile at a chance for a better future. We have had classes in tents, on mountainsides, and building skeletons. We have climbed and walked distances to bring smiles to some kids. Along the way, we have been searching for a few key things: resiliency, empowerment, and hope,” say the leaders of Panaga, and continue:
“We champion kids because we see them as the future generation. We notice the direct correlation between changing trajectories, empowering families, and building communities.”

A Yazidi girl whose life has been affected by the terror of ISIS


Our partnership is still beginning, but we are excited about all the possibilities. The Yazidi children deserve a future full of hope and opportunities. Like Panaga, we champion kids.

Oddny Gumaer


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