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Cordaid NL
Humanitarian Aid Iraq

Planting trees in an Iraqi refugee settlement: “They give us shade and joy”

To bring more colour into an otherwise troubled and dusty environment, Cordaid and the Women Rehabilitation Organisation (WRO) organised a tree planting day in the Qushtapa Refugee Settlement in Erbil, Iraq. In June, refugees, youth volunteers and residents of the area planted 200 trees, as part of the Youth Speak Project. Through this fun and fruitful collaboration, they have created a more pleasant, natural and flourishing habitat.

Qushtapa is one of the warmest places in Erbil. The sun beats down on the settlement for many sizzling hours a day. The residents of Qushtapa had to flee their homes, lost most of their belongings and were forced to start a new life in a foreign place. As if that weren’t hard enough already, the lack of shade can make their stay in the settlement almost unbearable.

“We planted 200 trees. It helped to make our world cleaner and taught us to work together.” – A volunteer in the settlement

Water shortage

During interviews and meetings inside and around the settlement, many residents pointed out that they have been affected by the consequences of climate change, such as a lack of green areas and water scarcity.

There has been a water shortage in Qushtapa for multiple years now. Because of this, it hadn’t been possible to plant any trees. Supported by new leadership in the settlement, Cordaid and the WRO were able to join forces and start this green initiative.

“I’m very happy with the trees. I tried to plant them before, but the management said we couldn’t because there wasn’t enough water.” – Syrian refugee in Qushtapa

Hope for the future of Iraq

In addition to improving the environment, the tree planting day had another important objective. In a country where people have had to live through decades of war, some have developed a sectarian mindset. Doing activities together enhances social cohesion and helps to build a society in which people are proud of their own identity and still get along well with their neighbours. In this case, it is particularly important to involve young people in these activities, as they are the hope for the future of Iraq.

“These trees have many benefits. They give us shade and joy.” – Syrian refugee in Qushtapa

The land between two rivers

The ancient Mesopotamian heart of Iraq lies between two rivers and has always been a destination and a home for a rich variety of cultures. Despite the hardship, Iraq has also become a beautiful painting, coloured by the civilizations that passed through this land.

The Iraqi youth of today has lots of aspiration and a warm flame glowing in their hearts. A flame that burns for a brighter future, for social cohesion and peaceful coexistence. These young people are looking forward to retouching this beautiful painting and make it their own.

“We promote the integration of youth in civic society, with respect, fairness, inclusion and a sense of belonging for everyone.” – Sarmad Mubarak, Security and Justice Programme Manager, Cordaid Iraq