The following is an exclusive Clarion interview with Springs of Hope Foundation, Inc. founder and director Lisa Miara, who has dedicated her life (successfully!) to rehabilitating the Yazidi people.
Springs of Hope Foundation, Inc. is dedicated to the rehabilitation the Yazidi people — mainly women and children — from the trauma of ISIS. Lisa will both warm and break your heart as you listen to her describe her life-saving work.
After our interview (above), we continued talking to Lisa:
How many Yazidis are you currently taking care of?
We have 450 kids, including 250 boys were child soldiers. Another 70 people come every day from other camps for medical and dental care that we set up. Our 15 mini-buses bring them daily to the Shariya Camp, where we are based.
We also have an open kitchen policy and many women come to us every day just to eat.
Where do your funds come from? Why isn’t the Kurdish government taking care of their citizens?
The Yazidis receive no money from the Kurdish government, which is broke. All of our funds come from donations, and I am also the chief fundraiser.
The UN provides $50 a month per person for those with identity papers, which is joke. Most Yazidis were forced to flee from their homes under fire or were kidnapped by ISIS. How would they have identity papers?
We are an organization in Iraq working with the Yazidis. Most everyone else is either afraid of the Yazidi boys who were kidnapped and made into child soldiers, or busy shunning them because of their extreme honor culture.
Two of our rehabilitated older teenage boys opened stores. But no one would do business with them.
How does this honor code affect the girls who were kidnapped and made into sex slaves by ISIS?
Unbelievably, the girls who survived such horrific abuse at the hands of ISIS are equally shunned, even though the top religious leader of the Yazidis has ruled they are all righteous.
One 16-year old girl who spent years in ISIS captivity was shunned by her father, her only known living relative. He refused to let his daughter live in the same tent as him because she “dishonored” him.
Springs of Hope Foundation is one of the only place these children are treated with love and respect.
Many of the girls are also ashamed of themselves and have left Iraq, thinking that their lives will be better elsewhere. They have gone to Australia, Germany, Canada, countries they can get visas into.
But it most cases, this hasn’t worked out. We encourage them to stay here and get the education we are offering them instead of trying to start over again in a foreign country.
We hope to open a sewing factory for the girls for employment and a shoe-making factory for the boys.
Are their cases of former Yazidis who have been rescued but just don’t come out of it emotionally?
Yes, unfortunately. Some of the women who have spent years in ISIS captivity suffer severely from Stockholm Syndrome. They come to us but only last 2-3 weeks before feeling compelled to return their ISIS “husbands.”
In one heartbreaking story, one of our 18-year-old boys was able to locate his mother and bring her to the camp. Yet, after a short while, she fled back to her ISIS captor.
You have told us in the past how smart and hard-working the Yazidis are. Can you elaborate?
The Yazidi kids are really smart! Even though the girls came from an environment where they had no formal schooling, while in captivity, they exchanged phone numbers (from memory) with other Yazidi captives of all their relatives so that if any of them escaped or got out, they would all know the phone numbers of each other’s relatives to contact. They memorized hundreds of phone numbers.
Unfortunately, in the first days of their captivity with ISIS, each girl was raped close to 50 times a day. Years later, each one still knows every ISIS fighter who raped them.
The boys used to exchange similar information which they wrote on scraps of paper. While they bowed down in pray (they were forcibly converted and had to pray), they would pass these bits of paper around for the same purpose.
All they need is a chance!
The Yazidis are also incredibly dignified people. Even though they live in tents with communal bathrooms (located about two and a half football fields away from their tents) with no hot water — and sometimes no water at all — they show up to school early every morning looking like they are going to a wedding!
They may only have one piece of fancy clothing, but they keep it clean and beautiful and wear it every day instead of jeans and a t-shirt.
The Yazidis are also not lazy people. One family I know would get up every morning at three am and plant vegetables for a garden. Their proceeds might only be $1 a week, but they persevered. This is not unusual.
I also have never heard any comments from Yazidis reflecting feelings of entitlement, for example, “I’m a terror victim and I deserve …”
Rarely will they ask for anything. Rather, they are grateful for anything we can give them.
I remember just one case of a Yazidi child asking me for something. A young boy came to me after he heard a lecture by our dentist about how important it is to take care of your teeth (many of the kids come to us with a mouthful of rotten teeth because of the trauma they have lived through with ISIS).
He wanted to take care of his teeth so badly that he came to me to ask if he could have a toothbrush and toothpaste.
What is the situation like in the camps now that it is winter?
The situation is dire. The tents in the camp are about four yards square and about 10-12 people live in one tent.
In the winter, the only form of heating available is through a kerosene stove, which is very dangerous. With that many people in such a small space and the mattresses laid out on the floor every night, it is not unusual that the stove gets knocked over.
Last year, we lost seven people, mostly children, to fires from these heaters; others were burned beyond recognition.
I am fundraising to buy a safety device for each tent. The device is about the size of a football and costs only $25. It detects any fire within three yards of it and then sprays a non-toxic chemical to put it out.
Just think, for $25 how many lies can be saved!
We understand that you are now also helping Yazidis in the Kurdish region of Syria (called Rojava). What are the unique challenges coming out of this region?
There are 250,000 Syrian Kurds who were displaced by ISIS and have come into the Iraqi Kurdish areas. Many are desperate to escape, now that [Turkish President Recep] Erdogan is massacring them.
Yet, there are massive security issues with the Syrians, as many ISIS fighters and their wives are trying to sneak into Iraq with the Kurdish Yazidis.
Lisa Miara is the founder and director of Springs of Hope Foundation, Inc., and organization working to rehabilitate the Yazidi people who were devastated when ISIS took over their villages in the summer of 2014.
Most of the girls and women were taken by the brutal terror group as sex slaves and passed around from fighter to fighter for years. The younger boys were brainwashed and trained to be soldiers.
Most of the men and older boys were slaughtered and buried in mass graves.
When ISIS appeared on the scene six years ago, Lisa was living with her family in Israel. A Jewish woman from London, she moved to Israel in 1976. One of her sons was not a stranger to terror, having been almost lynched by Arab terrorists when he was serving in the Israel Defense Forces and another time when a terrorist bombed a café he was sitting in.
Seeing that no one was helping the Yazidis, Lisa uprooted her life, moved to Iraq and started Springs of Hope Foundation, which has had incredibly success in bringing Yazidis – one by one, and especially the children – back from the brink of destruction.
Springs of Hope Foundation is based in the largest of the Yazidi refugee camps, the Shariyah Camp, in the Kurdish region of Iraq.
Springs of Hope Foundation is a U.S. non-profit organization and now an official Kurdish and Iraqi NGO.