July 18, 2019
“We work around the clock. At 10 p.m., I put my phone on silent so I can sleep. When I wake up in the morning, I have a list of requests from mothers, who say, ‘Mamoud, please help us find our children.’”
It looks like a primitive N. Five years ago, Navine’s mother carved the makeshift tattoo into her arm in a panic, using a nail and ashes. If they were separated, her mother told her, this would be how she would identify her. Navine was 11 when she was taken. For more than two years, she pretended to be paralyzed so that the fighters wouldn’t take her as a sex slave. “It was so difficult,” she remembers. “Sometimes they were pulling my hair and saying, ‘You have to walk. You have to talk.’ But I wouldn’t answer them.” Even during airstrikes, while everyone else ran for safety, she lived in fear – right where she was.
Today, Navine is in a tent on the side of Mount Sinjar – one of the only children her mother has left. Like 4,000 other Yazidis, some still living under pieces of plastic dropped by the U.S. airlifts five years ago, she feels safer there. Splashes of color still dot the rocks and bushes, Jane Arraf writes, the clothing and belongings left behind by thousands of terrified Yazidis as they climbed higher up the huge mountain in 2014 to escape being killed. Too afraid to come down, the survivors have been waiting for help -- that, until recently, rarely came.
Now, thanks to the Trump administration, Yadizis and Christian activists in the region agree: “Hope is back.” Wednesday, at the State Department’s second Ministerial to Advance International Religious Freedom, Father Thabet Habib Youssef thanked Secretary Mike Pompeo and the president for the infusion of aid and humanitarian relief. “Our greatest fear in the early years was that the world would forget us. This conference tells us we are not forgotten.” Haider Elias, the president of Yazda who spoke at FRC’s Syrian event Tuesday night, was similarly optimistic, telling Breitbart that things are finally starting to change under this administration – that people are finally starting to come back to Sinjar.
A lot of the credit for that belongs to Vice President Mike Pence, who last year announced that the U.S. would stop funneling money through an ineffective U.N. Instead, the Trump administration decided, USAID would cut out the middleman and take full control of relief efforts. Suddenly, more than $25 million in assistance started flowing directly to persecuted families like Navine’s in Northern Iraq. And that’s just a small portion of the $340 million the president pledged to religious minorities in her country alone. Villages that were “part ghost town, part ruins” are coming back to life. The money is helping to rebuild schools, hospitals, power stations and wells – and, most importantly, convincing thousands of Yazidi and Christian families that it’s finally safe to go home.
Wednesday afternoon, I had the chance to help highlight the important work of USAID at a special ministerial panel about faith communities (starting at 25:30 of this video). As I shared with them, one of the areas where every major religion can find common ground is helping people. And what I’ve been thrilled to see – not just through the ministerial, but through USAID – are the partnerships with faith-based organizations. To them, it doesn’t matter what religion you are. We don’t ask, “Are you a Baptist? A Lutheran? Are you Catholic or Muslim?” We serve all people.
If world leaders would start seeing religious communities as force multipliers for service, we could meet the needs that government could not. That’s what has been encouraging to me about the work of USAID, especially in the Middle East. They’re linking arms with groups that are on the ground who are motivated out of compassion for their fellow human being. And I think that as more and more governments model that and put an emphasis on the value of people operating from the foundation of their faith, we indirectly address the issue of religious discrimination. In the end, that’s what will help the Navines of the world -- an effort that does more than meet basic needs, but strives to end the hatred and harassment once and for all.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.