Iraqi charity takes on mammoth task of rehabilitating Mosul

Since Mosul’s liberation was announced last October, reconstruction funds have not resulted in much.
Sunday 05/08/2018
An Iraqi volunteer with the charity Wasel Tasel distributes food to displaced  raqis in Mosul. (Wasel Tasel)
A glimmer of hope. An Iraqi volunteer with the charity Wasel Tasel distributes food to displaced Iraqis in Mosul. (Wasel Tasel)

LONDON - Navigating the maze of narrow alleyways in the old city of Mosul are volunteers from the Wasel Tasel charity, distributing food hampers. Unlike others coordinating relief programmes in cities bearing the scars of war on the Islamic State (ISIS), Wasel Tasel is not accompanied by a media-savvy team that publicises its story.

The charity was established after the liberation of Ramadi in December 2015, attending to the financial and health needs of displaced families, orphaned children and widows.

Like the communities it helps, Wasel Tasel is led by young Iraqis displaced from their home cities during the lightning ascent of ISIS. Fallout from the battles that raged over the 3 years since the charity formed, compelled it to expand its volunteer network.

It operates across seven Iraqi provinces and its teams’ ability to reach those in need is largely decided by capital it can attract from local and regional funders. The aim is to improve the quality and scale of its humanitarian relief for as long as its services are needed.

Among the longest-serving volunteers is Muhammad Dylan, who spoke over WhatsApp about the utilisation of Facebook as an important avenue to mobilise donors. “Close to 98% of our funds are raised online,” he said. “The rest comes from local organisations, including Al Amal and another local charity founded by Iraqi oud player Nasser Shamma.”

The platform, he added, has proven instrumental for recruiting volunteers in provinces that were targeted in battles waged by the government forces and their allies in north-western Iraq.

“We have toured close to 35 camps where internally displaced communities reside. We also launched ‘Sanad,’ an outreach programme in which we have assisted 30 families for anywhere between 3 to 12 months, funding their meals, shelter, electricity and health care,” he said.

“The list of our accomplishments,” Dylan said, “is endless but if I had to name one it has to be the opening of the first school in Mosul’s historic city centre,” where nearly 300 pupils will resume their education after years of abeyance. The $10,000 needed to relaunch Al Makasib school was raised by the local Wasel Tasel team, encouraging the return of more families. Dylan said more is required “to address the post-war realities that communities have no choice but to live with.”

Dylan said he noticed an uptick in humanitarian relief initiatives since Ramadan began, filling the absence of an operative welfare state to assume responsibility over public and health services, nutrition and housing in liberated territories.

Doing nothing was never an option for Dylan, 32, and the Mosul-team headed by Abdallah Fateh, as young men and women who witnessed the disfiguration of their homes in the war.

“We all have skills. Volunteers are graduates or students are bringing with them talents that they have incorporated into relief operations,” Dylan said.

The changes communities felt are only incremental, with only a trickle of the funds for reconstruction finding its way to families living in most dire conditions.

Dylan said he is apprehensive and ambivalent towards the future and service accessibility is not all that haunts him but rather the “inescapable sight and repugnant smell of rotting corpses.”

Since Mosul’s liberation was announced last October, reconstruction funds have not resulted in much. First the bodies must be recovered and buried. In three recent days, 763 corpses were taken from the rubble by the Iraqi Civil Defence, Lieutenant-Colonel Rabie Ibrahim told Agence France-Presse.

Many of the bodies that have been recovered may never be publicly identified and some commentators have mischaracterised the city as the graveyard of ISIS.

The sight serves to remind residents how the protection of heavily populated civilian centres was a priority second only to the aerial bombardment of suspected ISIS hideouts. Many lament the decision to bomb the city from above as a military tactic that could have been avoided.

Few changes are detectable by scanning the city’s exterior 8 months after the last ISIS pockets in the old city were cleared. Houses and infrastructure are in ruins while families seek shelter in pockmarked buildings that displaced families can rent for as little as $50 a month, Dylan said.

The opening of Al Makasib school, he said, “has pumped fresh blood back into the city — a sanctuary for its people” but points out the summer is coming and the “needs of the people and the existing challenges will certain be amplified.”