'Cash for Work' in northern Iraq

Working towards happiness

At the Kabarto refugee camp in northern Iraq, Nada Yussuf Kada campaigns for women’s rights and is herself a role model.

Gabriele Rzepka
Fabian Schwan-Brandt

Her husband was arrested by Saddam Hussein’s police, her youngest son lost an arm in a bomb attack, terrorists from the Islamic State (IS) murdered her ­sister-in-law – and yet Nada Yussuf Kada ­refuses to give up. The 47-year-old Yazidi has been internally displaced since 2014, and not for the first time.


Despite all adversity, Kada wants life in the camp to be as pleasant as possible for her family.

Back in the mid-1970s, when the troops of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein forced her family to flee the Sinjar Mountains, Kada sought refuge in the Kurdish town of Sulaymaniyah. There she married her cousin, and in 1982 returned with him to her village in the Sinjar Mountains to start a family. She gave birth to her first son when she was 14 years old and went on to have four more children. But her husband was sent to prison in 1995, because he refused to fight in the Iraqi army. How was she going to make ends meet and bring up her children alone? ‘I desperately needed work, so in 1996 we moved to be with my mother in Mosul,’ Kada explains. ‘In Sinjar it was not approved of for women to work.’

Forced to abandon her business


Determined: Nada Yussuf Kada has no desire to sit around. She was pleased to be offered the ­opportunity of work at the camp – and was quickly made a team leader.

Kada found a job at a sewing factory in Mosul. But the police paid her frequent visits and tormented her with questions about her husband. After a few years she filed for divorce – she could not put the lives of her children in danger any longer. For a few years after that the family was left in peace. Kada no longer has any contact with her husband.

The Yazidi woman started saving to open her own small tailoring business. But she was forced to abandon these plans in mid-2014. When IS captured Mosul, terrorists put pressure on her brother – a qualified electrician – to build a generator for them. ‘That was out of the question, so he went into hiding.’ But there was a lot of support for IS among the people of Mosul. ‘We don’t know which of our neighbours gave them the name and address of his wife. One day they came and murdered my sister-in-law,’ Kada says, with tears in her eyes. With the thugs now on his tail, her brother fled to relatives in Kurdish northern Iraq.

Living in two tents

Kada also decided to leave IS-controlled Mosul and set off with her mother and children to the northern Iraqi province of Dohuk. Today they live in the Kabarto refugee camp. The dusty dirt roads are lined with tents. Kada was provided with two, accommodation for herself, her children, grandchildren and her mother. Between their tents is a small brick-built kitchen and bathroom. The family have gradually made life a little more comfortable for themselves: Kada’s children stretched a tarpaulin between the two tents and across the kitchen and bathroom to create a roof. Inside there are carpets, scattered with the grandchildren’s toys. At night, the living and playing areas are transformed into bedrooms. Mattresses used for seating during the day now become beds.

Kada attends courses in English and sewing at the camp’s community centre. She is also active in her own right, offering courses for women. Her topic is women’s rights; her motivation: ‘I want all women to understand that we are valued, that we have rights, that we are allowed to have an education and hold our own opinions. The terrorists want to enslave women. But I want to show everyone that we will not be broken by IS, but that we can break them!’ The community centre Kada attends is run by the Kurdish NGO Harikar. GIZ supports Harikar on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.


The Kabarto refugee camp provides shelter from the ‘Islamic State’ for people from Syria and Iraq.

When Kada heard about the Cash for Work programme, she contacted it straight away. There was work going on a building site, paid by the day. Even though construction work is typically a man’s job, she applied and was offered work for 40 days. Residents at the camp are in the process of building a recreation area which they will later be able to use themselves. GIZ planned the entire project in partnership with the Kurdish ­Authority for Support and Humanitarian Affairs. There will be areas for football, basketball, volleyball and table tennis as well as three playgrounds, meeting areas and green spaces. All the joinery will be undertaken by the joinery workshop from the Khanke refugee camp, where the evangelical US-based international relief and development organisation Samaritan’s Purse runs a training programme for joiners. GIZ is supplying the wood to enable them to complete their first major order.

Put in charge of the workers soon

Kada can still remember what the area looked like before building work began – a wasteland about a kilometre in length and up to 150 metres wide: ‘It was just a swamp here. There was a stream of wastewater that couldn’t drain and just formed puddles and mud. It stank. It wasn’t a pleasant sight.’ ­Today the stream runs through an underground pipe beneath the new recreation area. This now feeds into a wastewater treatment facility. The treated water will in future be used to irrigate the trees and green spaces in the recreation area. It is already possible to see the transformation under way on the former wasteland.

German Transitional Aid in Northern Iraq.

Kada’s job was to level the ground and build walls. Every morning she was there without fail, ready to work an eight-hour day. The engineers soon noticed her dedication. After just a few days she was put in charge of her team of workers: ‘My job was to check they were all there on time, and I encouraged the women in my team to work hard. If anyone tried to bunk off, I reported it to the supervisor. And I worked the whole time alongside my team, of course.’

Earning her own money

Kada earned one million Iraqi dinar during her 40 days on the programme, equivalent to around EUR 800. Having left all her worldly possessions in Mosul, the money came in very handy. The single mother immediately prioritised how she would spend her EUR 800: ‘The first thing I bought was a water filter – the water quality here is not very good. Now we no longer need to boil our drinking water.’ Kada was also able to pay for a doctor to treat her mother and buy the medicines she needed. And she even treated herself and the family to a few luxuries: ‘We bought a wardrobe and a TV – since it seems likely we will be staying at the camp for some time. I think it’s important to make your home look nice if you want to feel a little at ease in these challenging circumstances.’

Waiting to return to liberated Mosul

Two of her sons have joined the Peshmerga and are fighting as soldiers in the Kurdish army to defend the region against IS. Her two daughters now have children of their own and live with her in the camp, along with her youngest son who lost an arm. For Kada it is clear that the road ahead will be long. ‘I wish so much that everything will be right again and that we can return to Mosul. I want to go back there as soon as IS has been driven out, so we can rebuild our house.’ For Kada, the dream of happiness is crystal clear: ‘IS has to go, the security situation has to be stable and I need to have the prospect of finding work again.’

And as soon as that happens, she will pack her ­belongings and start building a new future – all over again.

Contact: Marc Levesque > marc.levesque@giz.de

published in akzente 2/17



Project: Temporary stabilisation of vulnerable households of refugees, IDPs and host community members in northern Iraq
Country: Iraq
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development
Lead executing agency: Republic of Iraq Ministry of Planning (MoP)
Overall term: 2016 to 2017

Around three million Iraqis are internally displaced, mostly in the autonomous region of Kurdistan. There are additionally approximately 250,000 refugees from Syria. In some places in northern Iraq refugees outnumber the indigenous population. The Kurdish regional government is struggling to meet basic needs; jobs are in very short supply. On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, GIZ is providing refugees and those in need in host communities with jobs for up to 40 days. They are employed to build roads and recreation areas, ­dispose of waste, help with farming or provide social services. For families where no family member is able to work, the programme provides one-off support. 30,000 households have received a temporary income in this way.


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