Iraq: The Courage to Hope

Baseema was 13 when the crisis began

In August 2014, armed groups attacked Sinjar, thousands were killed in their homes, and tens of thousands fled to Mt. Sinjar without shelter, food, or water. Their way out was blocked by gunmen and they became trapped on the mountain.

Baseema has struggled with mental illness ever since. She cannot remember anything about that time, but talks about being unable to leave her bed for months. “I couldn’t see, and I couldn’t move my hands,” says the shy teenager. “For many months I couldn’t walk, and when I did, I would fall unconscious.”

Baseema saw visions and heard voices in her head. People dressed in black and white told her she had to obey them. A doctor diagnosed Baseema with schizophrenia and gave her medication, but her symptoms didn’t improve. In September 2016, she began weekly visits with Firas, Medair’s psychosocial counsellor.

“At first I just talked with her, to let her begin to trust me,” says Firas, who was also impacted by the events of August 2014.

With Firas’ support, Baseema went back to her doctor, who revised the diagnosis to post-traumatic stress disorder and adjusted her medication. “Firas told me I can refuse to listen to the visions in my mind. I can stand up to them myself. Now I tell them I am only listening to my doctor,” said Baseema with a smile, looking up from the floor. “My life has changed completely. I can go out of the house now, and my family is so relieved.” Firas leans forward and claps his hands in encouragement.

“She still has a long way to go,” says Firas, clearly so happy for Baseema and her progress. “But she has hope now. She has experienced that she can get better, and she can help herself. She is working hard.”

Talk-based psychosocial treatment is still new in this culture, where asking for help can carry deep stigma. Yet there is no judgement to be found among the survivors of the August 2014 events. “We all need help,” says the village leader. “I need it, my wife needs it, and my children need it. It is obvious; I see it every day. Anytime there is a loud noise or a plane, people look around in fear, thinking that someone is coming for them again.”

“This is a very good team,” he says of the Medair staff.

Baseema’s name means “with a smile,” and when she talks about her life today, her smile even reaches her eyes. Everyone has noticed the changes in her. She is finding her way. She has the courage to hope.