The Future is Equal

Archives for June 15, 2017

Art before ISIS

A young girl from Hassansham camp enjoys Oxfam’s painting workshop. Photo: Tommy Trenchard

Little hands wrapped tightly around coloured pencils and paint brushes, foreheads furrowed in concentration, a small group of children slowly depict scenes of greenery, homes and villages born from their imaginations and memories of a time before ISIS.

The excited chatter rises above the sound of pop music playing from a small stereo just outside the door. The children show each other their masterpieces and adult artists who have joined the group mentor and guide them to create their visions on paper.

Sura, Oxfam’s Public Health Promotion Officer, helps some of the younger girls paint. Photo: Tommy Trenchard

Sura, Oxfam Public Health Promotion Officer, sits on one of the tiny chairs with some of the youngest little girls. She shows them how to hold the paint brushes and urges them on as they slowly draw the shaky outlines of their pictures. It’s the last day of April and the children painting on canvases are in Hassansham camp. The camp is home to nearly 10,000 people who have fled the violence in and around Mosul.

Sura has been supervising all of Oxfam’s public health work in Hassansham 3 camp and today she is helping run a fun painting workshop in the Oxfam community centre in the camp. She is encouraging the children to paint positive scenes of their life now or their homes as they remember them, helping them pick bright colours to fill in the crooked lines.

Sura explains the importance of the workshop for the children. “It’s really important to give the children a chance to have fun and do activities like painting together. Most of them have lived in Mosul under ISIS control for over two years and haven’t had a chance to do anything fun for a long time.”

Around the edges of the room a few adults use easels to paint and sketch much more elaborate pictures. Garbi Eunice, 51 is from Yarmouk in west Mosul and is now living in Hassansham, volunteering with Oxfam. He drew a symbolic picture of Mosul that shows his home and the local Mosque. “I drew a woman to represent Iraq – her hair is the flag”, Eunice points to the picture pinned on the wall, “her clothes are the hills and the river and her necklace is a map of the country. Her hands are clutching the rockets and keeping my city safe.”

Eunice’s drawing shows not only Mosul but the Kurdistan region, it was important for him to show a united Iraq. “I drew birds to represent peace and I didn’t draw any clouds because they represent war; I want the skies to be clear.”

“It’s important that people have a space to come to where they can do positive things like painting and drawing. Now that they have left the bombing and the war they can start to think about nice things again,” says Sura, looking over to the sun drenched area outside the centre where children are huddled over their pictures. “These children are having a lovely day being here together having fun and that’s important for their well being.”

A boy shows a picture he painted of his hometown, Hamdannia, which he remembers fondly. It shows the surrounding river and mountains. His hometown suffered extreme destruction at the hands of ISIS, and most families are yet to return. Photo: Tommy Trenchard

Hassansham camp opened in October 2016 and has the capacity for 10,000 people. Oxfam established a full water, sanitation and protection programme in Hassansham camp. Activities included public health promotion, water trucking, toilet and shower cleaning, distributions of blankets and hygiene items, and referrals to other agencies for things such as medical issues and family reunification.

In May 2017 Oxfam handed over most of its programming to a government agency called EJCC and the staff moved to work in Hamam Alil camp to better serve newly arriving families from the west of Mosul. The painting workshop was one of a series of activities the Oxfam teams planned to say goodbye to the camp volunteers and families they had been working with. Oxfam’s protection team will continue to work in Hassansham camp for the next nine months.