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The COVID-19 pandemic facing our world today has brought about sweeping changes to every aspect of our lives. At best, it has forced us to change the way we live, work and connect with our family, friends and community. Some have already lost loved ones to this disease, whilst others are fearful for their own lives or the lives of vulnerable people around them. In these strange and stressful times, we look to seek inspiration from Iraq’s orphaned children. Although the situation facing us is a novel one, the children that Al-Ayn has worked with have all been through harsh, unexpected and life-changing events. Their stories have taught us valuable lessons on resilience and overcoming adversity, all of which can be useful for us right now.
When tragedy strikes, there is a great deal to be distressed and confused about. But because we generally tend to falsely associate maturity with invulnerability, it can be hard to ward off the sense of guilt or shame when we are not demonstrating unfailing strength at all times. However, acknowledging our emotions is the first step to dealing with them. We must allow ourselves to be human and experience the range of emotions we are susceptible to, including hurt, grief and anxiety, if we are to manage them.
When Maryam lost both her father and her brother, she felt incredibly upset and lonely. She allowed herself to experience her grief, and these feelings were reflected in her dark drawings. Eventually, through Al-Ayn’s mental health support programme, she overcame her negative thoughts and her life turned more colourful (as the beautiful peacock drawing hanging in Al-Ayn’s offices can testify!).
Maryam teaches us that it’s okay to not be okay. If Maryam had not acknowledged her negative feelings, she may not have ultimately reached a position where she transcended them. As a philosopher once said, “Moments of losing courage belong to a brave life”.
2. Focus on your locus of control.
With the endless stream of news flocking to our phones and social media platforms, it is easy to be overwhelmed with a feeling of disempowerment and helplessness. Yet as much as adversity may make us feel that everything is beyond our control, there will always be things within our means which we can do to improve the situation.
When twelve year-old Redha lost his father to an act of terrorism, his family were left living in poverty. Having been tasked with collecting his father’s remains from the explosion, Redha must have felt grief-stricken and overwhelmed with a feeling of helplessness. But he kept his father’s memory alive through a beautiful act of service to the community. Every Arbaeen, he serves chai to visitors who come to Iraq from around the world, placing his father’s photo on his serving station with pride.
When the Al-Ayn team visited Zahra in the outskirts of Diwaniyah, they noticed that Zahra and her siblings had no toys to play with. Zahra and her siblings somehow still managed to find ways to have fun. They collected date pits from the nearby streets and played “huwaisha”, a game involving throwing date pits between holes they had dug up in the mud outside their home. ⠀
Redha and Zahra both teach us to identify our locus of control, and focus efforts within that locus. This will vary for each of us: those of us who are not on the frontline in fighting the virus may have plenty to offer in improving the overall situation for ourselves and others, even if it this is offering to deliver groceries to a neighbour, sending a positive text to a friend, or reading a daily prayer for those afflicted with illness to be cured.
3. Above all, never lose hope.
It sounds like a cliché statement, but staying hopeful when circumstances surrounding us are not promising really can make all the difference. Nargis and Amir have taught us how it’s possible for hope to spring from the most difficult of circumstances.
When Nargis’s father died from cancer, their family’s dire financial need forced two of Nargis’s sisters out of school to get married. Nargis’s mother is still tearful when she remembers this. But her eyes light up when she talks about Nargis. “Nargis scares me with her dreams. She wants to become a doctor. She studies so hard at school.” Nargis holds on to her dreams despite living in a house with palm leaves for a roof and a worm-infested ground beneath her.
Six year old Amir was orphaned when he was just three years old, after his father died a sudden death due to a lung infection. Amir lives in a single room with his mother and two other siblings. Despite their tight resources, Amir has big dreams of becoming a pilot. When his mother once asked him “What happens if you get tired whilst flying the airplane?” Amir was far from fazed by this question. He instantly replied: “That’s not a problem, I will come down from the sky and sleep and then go back up.”
The likes of Nargis and Amir that teach us it is never time to give up. Just as we have seen some of Iraq’s orphaned children find hope amidst chaos and confusion in their lives, so will we rise above the challenges of this global pandemic, and emerge with stronger faith, a renewed sense of gratitude, and a bunch of valuable lessons to treasure.
Visit our website to find out more about the COVID-19 Emergency Response.