New Humanity Movement

Ethnicities and Cultures





On February 13, during the international school "Working for fraternity", with a live link we had the possibility to talk with Malu Villafane, who shared her experience as an educator in a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan.

By Paolo Balduzzi

«My name is Malu, and I come from the Philippines. I live in Erbil, in northern Iraq, where, in 2010, I started a school for Kurdish children. I have been living here for almost five years ...

In these years, I had the opportunity to work at the local shrine, organizing quite a number of activities. Last August, the shrine has become a camp for refugees. The towns of Sinjar and Mosul, with the surrounding villages, such as Qaraqosh, Qaramlesh, Bartalla and others, were invaded by ISIS. The inhabitants fled to Kurdistan, leaving everything behind, and then came to us. The children in the refugee camp were lost, there was a heavy, very pessimistic atmosphere. Together with the leaders of the center, we started some activities for children from 5 to 14 years. Talking about it in my school with other colleagues, some of them expressed the wish to work with us».

In these years, how was the coexistence of Christians, Muslims, Yazidis and other ethnic groups such as Kurds, Turkmen, etc.?

«There was respect between them. They worked together, doing things together. I work with the Kurds, with the Turkmen, Arabs and other foreigners. When the crisis broke out at the beginning of August last year, many Kurds expressed their willingness to host refugees in their houses. The people in Kurdistan does not partake of this massacre».

When did the refugee crisis begin in Erbil? Where did they settle? What kind of prospects may they have for the coming months?

3 Malu con chitarra
«The crisis that has caused these forced migrations began as early as June last year and worsened in early August. People have lost everything: home, work, school; many of them initially took refuge in empty buildings, churches, along the way, and when they could, with relatives in Erbil.

Many NGOs, together with the Church, had to deal with the emergency without any preparation whatsoever. They needed everything! Together, we collected many first aid necessities. At that time the day temperature rose to almost 50 ° C, a real hell, and now during the winter it is so cold. We do not have enough tents to house thousands of families. There are refugee camps that do not have water and food for some periods of time.


And yet, after few months, in the camp where I work, the children began to smile, to play, to try other experiences outside the camp, like going to the pool or in the public park. Parents, seeing the joy of their children, began to have hope again. They themselves, instead of waiting, started to clean up the camp, to cook, and to give us a hand. There are those who remained, while others have decided to leave everything behind, in order to look for a better life out of Iraq. After living with them this dramatic situation, my life has been turned upside down. My stay here in Iraq has found a deeper meaning, because I have lived for universal brotherhood!»

Exactly, but does it make sense to work for fraternity? What drives you to continue working in the camp? Can you share with us your experience?

4 campo lavori 1
«Yes, definitely! If I looked at the circumstances from the human point of view, I would run away, discouraged. However, if I look at everything that takes place, with the eye of a hope based on the true faith, I can go beyond all the suffering I see.

I thought the beatitude: "When I was hungry, you gave me to eat; when I was sad, you have consoled  me ...." These words give me the strength to face the daily difficulties I encounter, while working in the camp. So many of them have lost hope, because they have lost everything. It is hard to explain or describe the pain here. This opportunity has opened up my heart and my soul to accept the other as a brother, as a sister. It gave me the chance to get out of my "comfortable" world, to put myself to the service of others. I want to live for universal brotherhood, not because I can solve the problems of these people, but because, with the small steps that I take, I can plant a seed, knowing that peace continues to grow especially in all the small things that we do every day for the others».

In your opinion, what can we do from here to help you, and to be close to all these people?

 Campo 1
«I believe that we must address the roots of this problem, that is 'misinformation'. To spread a culture that welcomes, that listens, particularly to peoples and religions in your city; through different activities or projects many barriers can be torn down.

Although it is not talked about much in the news, the emergency is still urgent. I thank you all for your support and let us continue to believe that true Peace is possible».


© Photo Copyright  Copertina Kurdistan Photo, Creative Commons License

© Photo Copyright  foto interne Malu Villafane, all rights reserved

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