Japanese-American Teacher Gives English Lesson To Yazidi Children
A Japanese-American activist is offering free English language classes to children from Kurdish minority Yazidi sect, victims of horrific and systematic attacks by Islamic State militants.
Driven by a desire to help young victims of conflicts in the Middle East and the belief that education is key to a better future, Siraj Davis has spent the last six years in the Middle East trying to make education available to children living in conflict - first in Syria, then Jordan, and now in Kurdistan.
Davis arrived in Duhok three month ago for a teaching position at a language center, and a month later he started to give free English lessons to children living in Sharya camp.
He believes education is one of the ways to combat Islamic State.
"Some people they feel that they want to fight Daesh. You don't have to fight Daesh by picking up a weapon. You can fight Daesh by being right here and helping the community and its victims. This is my way of fighting Daesh. I'm helping the victims, the innocent Yazidi people, I want people to help them because they've been victimized unjustly. We can all fight Daesh by doing good things, good things in the community and this is one of them, by giving back to the Yazidi people," Davis told Reuters, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State, which is also known as IS or ISIS.
Every Friday, Davis holds a two-hour lesson with a group of Yazidi children from ages 7 to 14.
The lessons are based on conversational English, allowing the children to communicate with foreigners and also setting the groundwork that will one day enable them to develop their language skill.
Based on his experience, Davis describes education in the Middle East as "horrible", especially due to the fighting with Islamic State in the region.
Among his pupils are children who had been held by the ultra-hardline Sunni militant group, Davis says, describing them as very "fragile and sensitive" and requiring special care.
Hundreds of children have escaped Islamic State captivity over the past year, but a few thousand more remain missing.
Davis hopes to get more funding for his education project.
"We need help out here at Sharya Camp. We want funding, we want to help these beautiful Yazidi children. We want to provide them classes, and to do that we need some funding to increase the frequency of the classes to three times a week, and also to take them to a centre where they will have access to technology and very good textbook. We hope this for the future , this would be very good for the people here, the children here," Davis said.
In a bid to get the world's recognition of the 'genocide' committed against the Yazidi people, Davis is currently embarking on a video music with a 'surprise' international celebrity, whom he declines to name.
"The next project I would like to embark on, we would like help from the United Nations, from the American embassy to do something positive, to create a change here to bring awareness to the genocide against the innocent, brave Yazidi people and also to raise the awareness," he said.
"The project I want to do for the future is a music video. We would like to make a music video with a celebrity involved in it, a surprise celebrity, to raise the awareness and to raise more people attention toward the necessary recognition of the genocide against the beautiful Yazidi nation and the Yazidi people," he added.
In September, Davis will go to Erbil to teach at the American International School of Kurdistan. However he doesn't intend to abandon the English classes and plans to bring in volunteers to fill in and continue the lessons.
Children attending Davis classes say the lessons have helped them forget the atrocities that happened in their hometown of Sinjar.
"I am from Sinjar. I was always thinking about my friends, but when I started to come to the lessons I stopped thinking about them and about Sinjar. Our teacher is very good to us. He treated us very well and he teaches us English. We've learned 'How are you ?' and its answer - 'Fine, thank you.' And also when he asks me: 'What is your name?' I reply: 'My name is Farid'," said Farid Ezdeen Elyas, a Yazidi boy.
The Yazidis are a religious sect whose beliefs combine elements of several ancient Middle Eastern religions.
Islamic State has systematically killed, captured or enslaved thousands of Yazidis when it overran the town of Sinjar in northern Iraq in August 2014.
Proclaiming a theocratic caliphate based on a radical interpretation of Sunni Islam, ISIS has tried to erase the Yazidis' identity by forcing men to choose between conversion to Islam or death, raping girls as young as nine, selling women at slave markets, and drafting boys to fight.