While working with a group of Yazidi refugee youth in Iraq, we had a series on taking initiative and how people with initiative can change the world. One of the boys protested, “We can’t even leave Iraq! How are we going to change the world?”
And thus our Clean Village Initiative was born to empower these young people and show them that they can create change, right where they’re at, starting with addressing a rampant issue in their community.
Trash bags costs 9 cents a piece in Iraq. But not everyone can afford trash bags. Even if you had trash bags, there might not be a truck to come and take it all away. Even if you had a truck to come take it all away, there might not be a place you could take it to.
This is why so many refugee families just dump trash outside of their tents or homes and burn it -- plastic and all. These displaced families live with trash strewn everywhere around them. It is unsanitary and it is unhealthy but it is the only way. It was the same in this village as well-- until our Clean Village Project started.
We’ve been able to start a trash collection system in the village and it has been hard work. We have brainstormed and problem-solved together with the boys every step of the way to make this project workable. We made drop-off sites and signs (the boys built their own metal signs and poured their own concrete!). They worked together as a team to communicate this initiative to their neighbors, explain the health risk and environmental damage of burning trash or letting garbage just pile up around them, and encourage each family to make a change. They often had to give multiple reminders. Many of the neighbors initially scoffed and told them not to bother because the project would fizzle out after a few months.
The boys have shown up week after week at each home in the village, whether in scorching 117-degree weather or pouring rain, to collect and dispose of filled trash bags and distribute new ones. We have expanded our project to cover the entire village and we're heading into our 4th year now. Doubting families from before now wait for the boys to show up and take their trash out. Even through the pandemic, these young men have kept at it all this time and we are so proud of them for being showing up, remaining resilient, and making a difference in their community.
To cover labor costs and supplies going into 2021 for this project, we still need $12,000. Each of them play a role in supporting their families and this initiative does not just impact them-- it impacts their entire village.
If you'd like to cheer them on and support what they're doing, please consider giving what you can today! You can follow their story at instagram.com/habibibears.
“I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”
-Edward Everett Hale
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