Emerging from conflict: Wansah’s journey to rebuild

April 22, 2021

Wansah shares her story on what it takes to build back her life after the devasting effects of the ISIL conflict. The journey has been tough on her, but she is more determined than ever before. 

42-year-old Wansah Aied Ahmed stands strong outside the textile factory in West Mosul. Photo: Mrinalini Santhanam/UNDP Iraq

When ISIL captured Mosul in 2014, it had devastating effects on the city, significantly affecting
the lives of women and children. Many families lost their loved ones, homes were left damaged, and livelihoods destroyed.

For 42-year-old Wansah Aied Ahmed, who has three daughters and one son, it has been a difficult journey to pick up after the liberation in 2017. During which, she lost her son, daughter, and husband. “It was heartbreaking when I lost my children to a mortar attack during the fighting. While on the other hand, my husband went to work one day and never came back. He is rumoured to have also been killed by a strike,” Wansah says with a heavy heart. Along with her family, she currently lives in the Al Hermat neighbourhood within West Mosul.

While Wansah and her family are coping with the loss, she also lacks a stable income. As the head of the household, she is currently the sole breadwinner for her children. “I had many setbacks in life. Though, nothing can bring me down. I feel determined to protect and provide a better life for my children,” she says.

To support her children, who are still in school, Wansah has been running a small sweet shop out of her home. She prioritizes giving special attention to her daughter, who lost her eyesight during the same attack that killed her children. Especially as it has left her unable to carry out tasks and attend school. She says, “On a good month, I would earn approximately USD 250-300 from the sweet shop. This helped provide for their food and education.”

While the income from her sweet shop helped run the household, it was not enough to cover the education and medical bills that were piling up. At times, she would lean on her neighbours
and extended family, “I borrowed money from my family or friends in the neighbourhood. The shared trauma we have experienced has left us with a sense of responsibility and comradery between each other. Nevertheless, I still owed them back the money.” She was accumulating a debt of approximately USD 3,000.

To clear her debt, Wansah started to look out for other sources of income: “The money I make from the sweet shop was not enough. I started to look out for jobs. Which is when I came across the cash-for-work opportunity.

Wansah Aied Ahmed is determined to provide and support her family. Photo: Mrinalini Santhanam/UNDP Iraq

Through her friends, Wansah heard about a 40-day employment opportunity, “People told me that there is a job opportunity calling for people to clear rubble close to the football field. They told me I needed to submit my application if I was interested. I applied hoping to be considered for the job.” With a change in the tone of her voice, she happily recalls how she received the news on a Thursday and couldn’t wait to start work the following Sunday.

This was a cash-for-work opportunity to clear rubble and support the rehabilitation of Mosul city. It is implemented through UNDP’s Funding Facility for Stabilization. This was supported by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) with financing provided through KfW. The project focuses on giving emergency income while restoring community infrastructure. This has helped women like Wansah pay back debts caused by war and support daily expenses for their families.

Even though it only provided Wansah with an immediate income, she was able to maximize it. She paid back half her debt and further invested in the sweet shop. “This has not just taken the weight off my shoulders but also helped me buy more raw materials and equipment for my shop. Since then, I have increased production and doubled the income I used to get from the sweet shop.”

Wansah recalls the moment she found out about being selected for the job. Photo: Mrinalini Santhanam/UNDP Iraq

This type of work was not new to her. She recalls how she would farm and plough the field, the best time of her life as she remembers. “I am grateful for the opportunity. I learned how to separate rubble from metals. I even met women who had similar experiences like mine, and we became close. On the last day, we were all very emotional to say goodbye to each other.” They exchanged numbers and now meet each other for an occasional cup of Iraqi chai. 

Creating a safe and healthy working environment for women taking part in the programme is a top priority for UNDP. “Iraqi women are strong. They work with a high level of care and love. The women are responsible for their families, opportunities like this help support and
 strengthen their personality,” says Linda Majid Yousif, Laison Officer at UNDP Iraq who coordinated the implementation of this project. “At the work sites, we stay close to everyone, especially women, to remind them that harassment and abuse of authority is not tolerated. This helps create a safe environment where the women feel heard,” she adds. Linda has built a strong bond with the women. She still stays in touch with them to track their progress long after the project is over. 

Linda, Laison Officer for UNDP Iraq along with Wansah. Photo: Mrinalini Santhanam/UNDP Iraq

Since 2015, to help people get back on their feet, UNDP has provided livelihoods support to 90,000 Iraqis in the liberated areas of Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninewa and Salah Al-Din. This year, the stabilization programme places greater emphasis on promoting sustainable livelihoods through creating medium and long-term employment opportunities.

While this job has helped, Wansah is on the lookout for more longer-term job opportunities. “Usually, women in Iraq are not encouraged to work. This made me feel included in society and gave me a taste of what it means to earn a reliable source of income. I hope that other women also build the courage to support themselves. It is not easy, but we got to keep trying in the hope for a better future.”