Thursday, January 29, 2015

Young women of Kurdistan- The change maker series: Part I

Loyal blog readers,

I am on a mission. Of all the great and wonderful and amazing and just… super great people that cross my everyday life I will post an eight week series. One Kurdistani girl a week on the blog. I want to introduce you to these remarkable young women who are full of energy, inpiration and are sources of hope.
I couldn’t resist but open the series with none other than….

She resembles hope, strength, coexistance, love and team work.

Name: Shan Kameran Bakir
Profession: Dentist, but that’s just a different story. Founder and General Manager of Dilvia NGO
Age: 25

We met last year (gosh! If I put it that way it sounds like such a long time ago. You know, 2014) I saw her doing a presentation, and admired her right then and there. Fast forward a few months I found myself in the hottest summer mornings, in my tracksuits at her house, 8 am. I must add it was Ramadan.

Beware her smile is contagious.

 My purpose was to join in the Ramadan Basket project she and her team of volunteers had. The point is, I woke her up from sleep, a little too early (I had my excuses) for our pre arranged meeting. She sat me in her family’s living room. I wish I recorded our conversation. The woman I was sitting next to was the purest being in the world. I asked, she answered. I asked, she answered. No, not an interrogation. But one of those meetings where you feel Oprah (no, I wasn’t Oprah. Though I wouldn't mind hehe) is talking to the most inspiring woman on the planet. A smooth conversation from culture, to politics, to her challenges, to family… It was that Ramadan morning I knew I have met someone in my life that will one day change the world. That is, if she hadn’t already done so.
At the clinic thinking of her ‘other life’ that definitely
doesn’t include teeth. Don’t call her “Dr.” she doesn’t like it. Simple.
 Sitting in her family’s living room, observing a wall of pictures, memories, siblings’ graduation, proud parents, I knew this living room is filled with love, a comfortable nest. The girl sitting in front of me has gone through the most extreme circumstances in life, and in front of her I feel I have accomplished nothing in this world to better anyone’s life. She is a girl who can relate to all, a simple hard-working family who have extraordinary heart have raised an angel. Every since that meeting, everytime I met Shan I have had the same feeling.

 She is the girl who never stops smiling, the one with the colourful hijab, the most down to earth being I have come across. Shan is the one who is always listening to others, but when she speaks you want to just sit and observe her passion in every word she says. The type whose eyes say a million words, and when she is happy or excited they give a diamond-like shine that is so pure… and full of hope. She is those girls that you miss to see if weeks pass without meeting her, the one who literally loves life and cares more about people than anything. Shan is the bubbly personality, the one who can empathize with all, the loyal friend, the older sister, and, in my opinion, the change maker. If these aren’t good enough reasons for you to get to know her more, then I don’t know what is.

Her family home is a hub for all friends and volunteers
I asked her some questions (she wrote the responses) so are you ready? Get your tea (coffee, juice, milk or your bag of junk food) and enjoy a casual conversation with Shan, right here, on the blog.

Mandalawi: Let’s start broad, how would you introduce yourself? What do you do?

Shan: I’m just another person in this world who didn’t accept to surrender to the bad and negative influence we grow up with in our society… I just believed that I can make a difference with my own simple effort… then I got surprised by all the people who wanted to help as well… when I decided to dedicate my time in serving others… that is actually when I start living…
what I do? I’ve graduated to be a Dentist! Although I never found myself in this job… so I started to follow my passion in helping others and now I’m the founder and general manager of Dilvia charity organization…and I’m working on developing this volunteer work into my all-day Job so I can get access and dedication on helping more people
Everything Shan does she does it with a huge group of volunteers

 (Sazo, If I sound cheezy please help) [No Shan, not cheeeeezy at all, and I will keep every word you write. Hehe]..

Mandalawi: What’s your journey so far, how did you get to where you are today?
Shan: I had to fight a lot of challenges.. I cried a lot.. I got depressed and disappointed by the society’s ideas and traditions that stood in my way… but I literally never gave up… I couldn’t..because it was a way of breathing to me .. as soon as I found my dream and found myself in it I wouldn’t think for a moment to let it go…
Shan, always a candle of hope
 The challenges included restrictions and bad expectations from all the people I knew who thought that I was wasting my time and I would never help someone if I wasn’t “well-known” or “rich” …

 but on the other hand… there was a few people who believed in me and supported me in a way I will never forget… all I needed was to keep going and insisting on my belief … and everything went perfectly amazing


Sazan: One day, I hope you get to meet Shan, and let her share with you the challenges. No matter how much I write it won’t be the way she describes it. I love how she calls it challenge, while others would call the same experience problem/setback or end of road. See how amazing this girl is?

Mandalawi: What is your passion? What do you live for?

Shan: The smile I see when I help someone … the great feeling I have when someone tells me that “he wanted to help a lot but didn’t know how until he met me”…my dedication is to share a way of happiness and satisfaction in life and help my society to develop and start seeing peace and love spread instead of poverty and hatred or racism

 Mandalawi: How is a day in your life like?
Shan: A day of my life would be hopefully an unpredicted day … it’s in my personality “bad and good in the same time” that I hate routine and planned days… but it should include (I won’t sleep if it doesn’t):
– Work related to Dilvia
– Workout for at least 30 min.
– Reading a book for at least 30 min.
– Be there for one of my friends who needed support

Put Shan with a little child or an elderly man
 at the Elderly People’s Home and she can laugh
and get a long with both.
Sazan: Her last point is so true. She provides psych-social support to like a billion girls; Facebook, over the phone, on text messages or in face-to-face meetings. I mean it. Every. Single. Day.

Mandalawi: Your source of support? What or who keeps you going?
Shan: For me it’s basically my close friends… they are the only people in my life who supported me in my dreams… unfortunately.
and also some books and writers like Paulo Coelho and Stephen Covey.
Sazan: Why she says unfortunately? Long story.

Mandalawi: What challenges do you face in what you do?
Shan: My first challenge was my family…because they thought it was a waste of time and money, and it’s quite dangerous for me in to do so…

It is not like they didn’t want me to support but in our country its so frightening for a young girl to mingle and get in close relation with a lot of strangers and having people know you in the society is super challenging… according to them “it’s a bad a thing”
The other challenges was people misunderstand my intention.. or paper-work challenges in getting access to people in need… but thank god non of the challenges were so serious that it stopped me from preceding.

Sazan: Her challenges with her family five years back reflects the challenges many Kurdish girls may face in this society.

Mandalawi: How do you deal with those challenges

Shan: after all.. my family gave up on stopping me after a lot of fighting and in a way or another now they are supporting me 

….how I deal with them?…. I actually cry! But I never surrender … a lot of time I was working with tears all over the place but I never stopped working ….

Shan donating blood with her father and sister

Sazan: Who was it that said tears are signs of strength? And remember Shanoo “The soul would have no rainbow had the eyes no tears.” And we all know how colourful and bright your soul is.

Mandalawi: Anything we should keep an eye on? Future plans/ projects?

Shan: Plans for Dilvia (my passion engine):
– Facilitate the donation ways for whom want to help
– Help the IDPs and refugees to survive this crisis until they go safely home
– Support the peshmarge families in this hard war times
– Encourage the youth to serve more in their society and improve their country

For Shan, it's all about working together
 Mandalawi: Three dreams in your life

Shan: Although I don’t like specific dreams… the sky is the limit for my ambition but if I have to put them in three lines it would be
– Make dilvia international and have access to all the people in need
– Be a living example of a young girl that nothing could stop her from fighting and fingerprint her life (for all the girls who think they can’t help in this world)
– Improve my fitness and health to be in a level of an athlete

Mandalawi: Any advice for other girls in Kurdistan

Shan: I advice them all to believe in themselves… the only bounderies is only found in our minds … I thought it was only a nice-speech line.. but its not… I know it … put your priority to your dreams and passions… don’t listen to the stupid restrictions… they will all fade away in front of your will… you deserve to live your life with passion, so do it.. just DO IT… we can add beauty to our grace country… and its getting to a higher place so take your chance and participate in this upcoming developement…. you will regret it if you don’t…

Sazo I wasn’t brief at all …. I won’t blame you if you won’t read it but I really enjoyed this … I was smiling all the time

Sazan: I read every single word Shanoo. And I have decided to keep it all the same. Just like you wrote it. It’s you!

The perfect role model
 We will need hours for Shan to speak of her endless challenges. Maybe an 8 am visit in her family living room on a Ramadan morning. I take this opportunity to apologize for that very insensitive act, but we laugh it off now when ever we remember.

Shan’s family home has become a place for volunteering activities, meetings,
NGO office, stocking of donations
No words can describe Shan. She is just Shan. The girl you call, but her phone is always busy, then she calls you back, and is ready to say: “Let’s meet in an hour” no matter when and where.
Until next Wednesday night Shan is the hero of the week, the month, the year, the hero in the life of all of us who know her, and all those she helps without even realizing!

Dilvia... all this and more. Indeed.
 You can contact Shan through Facebook here, or like the Dilvia page right here.

 Pictures: All photos for this blog post were stolen by me from Shan’s Instagram, Facebook and here and there (with full permission. I swear.)

Monday, January 26, 2015

The dream of a Peshmerga's child

Hello loyal blog reader,

As I write this post one of my loveliest friends in this entire world is working hard with a great team of volunteers putting together a super amazing event for this weekend. Guess what? (I imagine it’s not so hard to guess since I have placed it so boldly in the title) Dreams of peshmergas’ children will be coming true – with your help of course.

Daughter of a peshmerga writing her dream. Photo: Dilvia

Have you ever thought how a simple gesture for a child often changes their entire lives? Have you ever thought about our Peshmerga in uniform fighting terrorists just so we can be safe in our own homes? What would make that peshmerga happier than knowing his child is happy?

Children of the peshmergas have dreams. Photo: Dilvia

The Dream project, by Dilvia, for the second year is making dreams of children come true. How does it work? First, these amazinggggg volunteers have visited lots of families, they spent time with them, and allowed kids to write and draw their dreams.
When you arrive you will see all of the children’s dreams drawn or handwritten by them personally, all you (your company or your group of friends) will do is sponsor a dream that appeals to you most, if you like… and soon, in your email you will get photos and videos of the child whose dream you made come true. Something so simple, yet so amazing.


When? This Friday and Saturday (30 and 31 January)
Where? At the hall in Van Royal hotel, 60 meters rd. Erbil, Kurdistan Region.

Please come and join. Mark your calendar, make it a social event with your loved ones and come change a life in the simplest way possible.
For more information visit the Dilvia Facebook page or contact (the angel) Shan Kameran.

Lots of love from
My Nest in Kurdistan

Sunday, January 11, 2015

She turned 9.

Dearest loyal reader,
Do you sometimes live a moment in your life where you want to pause it forever, one of those picture perfect moments?
Zhala and S. I had to capture one of their long, tight hugs.
I remember a few summers back one day at the orphanage a little girl had come with three of her brothers. She was about five or six years old at the time, but was too tiny for her age. In fact they were all very thin; unhealthy, thin children. The story of why they came is a long one, but they were the type of kids that would hide from you, that would never say a word and didn’t want to be close to anyone.
Pink, Hello Kitty cake, just like many 9 year-old girls she loves the colour pink.
Pink, Hello Kitty cake, just like many 9 year-old girls she loves the colour pink.

They were traumatized. Fast forward to 2015, and that little girl just turned 9 years old. Thanks to Zhala, the director of the girl’s section of the orphanage, a beautiful little celebration was created to celebrate her birthday. I enjoyed it more than I have enjoyed any of my own birthdays.

It was one of those moments in life where I wanted to press pause and live it… forever. The nine-year-old, S., was dressed in a new dress – just as someone who had a mother would go out and buy their daughter a special dress for their birthday party. She had beautiful little ballerinas on, also new. Her hair was beautifully styled, just as a mother would style her daughter’s hair for the birthday pictures. She felt special. She felt loved. She would go stand behind her cake…the humble and quiet S., just smiled posing for photographs, her eyes spoke a million words.
Every time I looked S., went to Zhala and gave her one of those very tight hugs where she crosses her hands all around Zhala’s waist. She was so appreciative of everything.
The nine year old is like a mother to her three brothers. She grew fast. She is the chubby, cute, quiet little girl today who goes to school and loves mathematics. If she wasn’t hugging Zhala she was around her younger brother.

What a beautiful moment it was. There are some people in Kurdistan who change people’s lives forever, Zhala is one of those kind hearted individuals who does exactly that and suffers a lot along the way.
With her youngest brother.

I wonder when this little girl grows to be 19, what type of stories she will have to tell, and what type of girl she will grow into…. for the first time in a long time I have hope in our orphanage.

Lots of love from
My Nest in Kurdistan

Monday, January 5, 2015

Adoption in my society

Dear loyal blog readers,

Adoption in Kurdistan, socially and legally unacceptable
Before I continue let me tell you something, even before my marriage, I have always wanted to adopt children. Yes, not one child, but children. I knew it had to happen in my life. Maybe because of my experience with orphans, maybe I saw too many children in pain without a mother or a father, maybe the incidents in our families where some of my own cousins unfortunately lost their parents in tragedies and I saw them grow without a parent... maybe it was the occasional visit to the orphanage.

The reason, I don't know, but I knew I have enough love to give to any child I adopt. I would raise it as if it was a fetus in my own womb and would love the child as much I would if I went through labor and  gave birth myself (without an epidural).

When you are 26 and 27 in a Kurdish society, once you are settled with a partner, the expectations for a little baby keep rising. First, time was ticking to get married now time is ticking to have a baby. Let me take a momentary pause here; I am honestly not sure what the next ticking is, but for some reason for a woman a clock is always ticking and a train is always ready to pass.

I won't make this too personal about myself, but for anyone to have an idea to adopt a child or to even mention it is almost like admitting you're about to commit a crime. From those dearest to me I have heard remarks and replies that come across as rude and offensive.

I know religion plays a major role in this issue, as a practicing Muslim I understand some of those view points. However, even those who don't practice the religion remain strictly against adoption. I believe it is one of those things we refuse because socially it's unacceptable... but why don't we give ourselves a chance to have second thoughts about it?

Why should we bring more and more little innocent beings into this world when there are already children who are neglected? Why don't I take an orphan from Sinjar, Kobane or my own Mandali, Khanaqin or even Hawler? How I would love to give such a child endless affection, the best quality education I can afford and my time to raise it in the best possible ways.

Why is it every time I mention the idea of adoption I need to bow my head down in shame as if I have just cursed? Or, even worse, as if you are admitting out loud your infertility. Not sure how people make such a quick linkage. Why must one be infertile to adopt?

The reaction on some people's face when I even mention it, let alone say I would love to do it, immediately makes me feel an outcast. Sometimes you think to yourself even if you adopted a child (that is if the laws and regulations ever allow you...after a good hundred years of paperwork) society will not fairly treat that child. Your own relatives will point at him/her as the 'adopted one' I guess a time will come where you feel sorry for whoever it is you make your child by law.

Fine. Forget adoption. Why not be able to bring a child into foster care? You know, a foster family? Is it not better than living alone, living without a family? Is it not better than not having anyone to help with your homework or guide you to what is good and bad behavior?

Deep down inside me, the idea of adoption will never disappear, but with the years I have realized not everything is as simple as it is in my own mind. After all, there is always something called society.

Until next time I have a complaint, you know, bolla-bol
Lots of love from
My Nest in Kurdistan