Success story
Rita rescues the survivors of ISIL

August 3, 2018 at 10:54 am

Rita Behnam, a social worker specialized in assisting survivors from ISIS captivity

Rita Behnam, a social worker specialized in assisting survivors from ISIS captivity

Ninawa – KirkukNow

’’I wish we were neighbours so I could see you every morning,’’ an Ezidi girl who survived the Islamic State (ISIL) told the social worker Rita Behnam. Behnam replied, ’’You are my little sister, and I will always be by your side’’.

Behnam works in an IDP camp in Duhok. She befriended the Ezidi girl there. Describing her state, she said, “At first she suffered some psychological difficulties as a result of being captured and abused by the ISIS fighters,” she went on, “She had a problem speaking or even sleeping. She this trauma that ISIS would return to kidnap her.”

However, now she responds to her treatment rapidly, undergoing intensive psychological exercises.

Behnam shows her kindness, “She needs someone who understands her.” The task seems to be difficult, but the gradual normalisation makes her happier.

Born in Mosul, Behnam is in her twenties. in 2007 she moved to Duhok along with her family due to the volatile situation of the city. In Duhok, she perused her studies in the Department of Education and Psychology in Duhok University.

After graduation, she started working with PSS teams with Ezidis, especially the female survivors of ISIL in October 2016.

Rita Behnam is in her twenties. She works with female ISIL survivors, especially Ezidis.

When she started, she did not any experience, other than what she learnt from her university, “I faced tremendous challenges, mainly due to not speaking Kurmanji Kurdish that Ezidis spoke.”

The accent Ezidis use is different from the speakers of the same dialect in Duhok. After a while, she could master the dialect, which helped her communicating with the Ezidis.

It all started when she heard that Zhinda, a partner organisation of WADI, needs a social worker. The job was within her specialisation. Since then, she is busy helping people constantly.

She starts as early as any other worker but stays until 07:00 PM. If a case is referred to a hospital, she has to wait and oversee it, which extends her work to 09:00 PM in some cases.

In Sharya, Khanke and Ba’azri camps in Duhok, Rita provides her Pscyho-social services for the IDPs and people living in unfinished house-structures outside the camps as well.

Rita discusses the challenge of working with survivors, “Fear still haunts, them. They do not trust  people after what they have undergone.”

Some families are more restricted as they refuse to provide their phone numbers for the time of crisis, some others offer two for emergency.

Rita sitting on the floor in one of IDP tents

She has to try hard to win their trust, “Do not consider me more important than you. I am your sister, if you accept me as a sister then I will be pleased.”  Most of them accept, as “there is nothing sweeter than to have a sister,” they respond.

The trust building comes with converstations. They talk and talk. She has to listen very carefully, not interrupting at any time.

She collects information from the family, the state of the victim and her background. She has to devise a new plan on how to approach her and how to speak to her.

Most displaced people in Duhok are Ezidis, Christians and other minorities who were in Nineveh before. After ISIS assault in mid 2014, their belongins were seized. They hardly survived with their lives.

One victim shocked Behnam. Her family did not accept her anymore as she was captured by the ISIL. When she tried to talk to her, she refused, “They all come and ask about how do I feel.”

She felt dizzy and fell on the floor.

Some families may not accept those who were ISIL hostages, as the traditional norms do not allow them.

She did not give up on her. After two days, she visited her again. Gradually, she could make her speak, and feel better.

Among common traits, she said, is that they suffer insomania and isolation. They do not go out. They don’t want to see people. They can’t sleep well.

As with this case, Behnam has a specific method. She first imagines herself in the victim’s shoes. Later, she searches the internet for simiar cases and instructions on how to solve it.

According to the statistics of the Ezidi Affairs Department in KRG, 3,315 abducted Ezidis have been rescued, 1,155 women among them, 337 men, 954 female children, 870 male children, while the fate of 3,102 Ezidis is still unknown after their abduction.

Behnam is happy. She works, and helps people. The difficulties she face encourages her more. It’s more like a calling for her: how to rescue the survivors.


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