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Help protect people vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 in the US and around the globe.

In Mosul, youth power a pandemic response

By Elizabeth Stevens
“We provided hygiene kits and food baskets for the most vulnerable people, and we’ve reached more than 1,000 households,” says Shahad (left, shown here taking part in a distribution). “Now they can protect their families. Photo: Iraqi Institution for Development

An Oxfam partner delivers essential aid in the war-torn city.

Mosul, Iraq, deserves a break. Ravaged by war and occupied by ISIS for three long years (2014-17), it still lies more or less in ruins. But the coronavirus hit this country hard, and the spread of infection has put the city’s slow recovery on hold.

Still, there is energy here, and a passion for setting things to rights, and youth are leading the way. Young adults like Shahad, who lived through the occupation and now spend their days on the front lines of the covid response. (For security reasons, we prefer not to use her full name.) She and her team from the Iraqi Institution for Development (IID), an Oxfam partner, deliver food and hygiene kits to families that can’t afford either.

In 2003, the year a US-led coalition launched its “shock and awe” campaign in Baghdad, a group of youth in Mosul founded IID. It is an organization of peace builders and human rights defenders that takes aim at poverty and injustice. Now, the group is targeting the coronavirus, reaching out to the communities least able to protect themselves.

“We provided hygiene kits and food baskets for the most vulnerable people, and we’ve reached more than 1,000 households,” says Shahad. “Now they can protect their families. Food baskets were essential because many people who rely on day labor no longer have a source of income and have become more vulnerable.” The group is also raising awareness about the disease through a door-to-door campaign.

“The first case of COVID-19 was next to our office,” she says. “We feared for the staff, we feared for their families and the people we support.” But, she says, “after a few days, we couldn’t stand still,” and soon IID was up and running again—carefully. “We provide our staff with masks and sanitizers, and our office gets sanitized often during the week. Also, we never interact with people if we are not wearing masks and gloves, and we avoid large gatherings by limiting the number of people per room and office. When it comes to distributions, we go door to door to avoid crowds.”

Oxfam has invested in IID and 14 other Iraqi organizations—part of a three-year effort to create a strong cadre of local and national organizations that can manage all but the most catastrophic emergencies without the help of international aid providers. The trainings we offer aren’t simply about how to distribute aid; they are aimed at helping Iraqi organizations thrive. At helping them upgrade their financial systems, for example, and learn to create effective funding proposals so they can build a solid base of support. It’s part of our worldwide effort to strengthen local humanitarian leadership by helping shift power and resources to the aid providers that live and work most closely to communities affected by disasters.

Shahad’s education was halted during the occupation, and like the city of Mosul, she was forced to be patient. This year she is finally back at university, and one day she will return to the vast project of rebuilding her city. But for now, she will help community members focus on their most urgent priority: staying alive.

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