BAJED KANDALA 2, Iraq — Surgeon Nemam Ghafouri walks from a medical cabin at the Bajed Kandala 2 camp in northern Iraq, passing hundreds of tents that dot the landscape.
On the way she talks to some of the internally displaced people — almost all Yezidi — who have found refuge here.
The air is cool; the cries of children echo in the background. But she keeps moving, determined to find a solution to today’s problem.
There are 16,000 people — 8,000 in this camp and another 8,000 in Bajed Kandala 1 located across the road — waiting for their daily bread. But the equipment in the camp bakery is broken.
So today, few in the camp, where almost half the residents are children, have had anything to eat.
Ghafouri stops and talks with women baking naan bread in a tandoor or traditional clay oven. Many in the camp would be using a tandoor to cook their bread had they not been driven from their homes. But only a select few now have access to the oven — which Ghafouri speculates they carried with them when they left their village.
A visitor to the camp watches as the bread bakes — one flat loaf at a time. When the visitor asks to buy bread, one woman at the tandoor replies: “I don’t sell my bread, but I am willing to share it.”
It is a sweet sentiment that is indicative of the residents in Bajed Kandala 2 — where multiple families often reside in one tent because sharing is better than anyone going without.
However, it doesn't solve Ghafouri's problem or help her feed the thousands waiting for bread.
Children stand outside the modern bakery, located a few hundred feet from the women working at the tandoor. The smell of fresh bread lingers in the air. There are loaves of bread inside the new building ready to distribute; workers baked more than half the morning's batch before the equipment broke down. But Ghafouri laments there is not enough.
“If we distribute bread to some part (of the camp) and not the entire camp, we will have a problem,” she explains. “And the next time when we distribute everybody will come and attack because they think there is not enough for everybody.”
So she watches as the men who run the bakery try to fix the equipment.
“Whenever we see a problem,” she said, “we try to find a solution.”
It’s what surgeons do, she explains. “When you have a problem in the middle of surgery you have to find a solution as quickly as possible. If plan A doesn’t work, go to B or C.”
So when there was a need for clean water in the camp, located just miles from the borders of Syria and Turkey, her team provided thermoses. And when the children in the camp started running in front of bread trucks or fighting for bread — one child received 32 stitches in his head trying to get food; others died when they were hit by the trucks delivering bread — they dreamed of building the bakery.
Numerous humanitarian organizations worked together to make the bakery a reality.
War and internal tensions and divisions continue to polarize Iraq, where more than 1 million people have fled their homes. Sectarian tensions are feeding instability in the region. And refugees from the Syrian conflict continue to cross the border, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
The Yezidis who have found refuge here in the camp are part of a Kurdish ethno-religious community from northern Iraq. In August the Yezidis were targeted by the Islamic State group. Most fled their homes.
Ghafouri is a Muslim doctor who was raised in Iraq but now practices medicine in Sweden. She doesn’t let religious tensions worry her.
Why? She explains by referencing an interaction with a Yezidi boy she once met. “The first time he introduced himself to me, he said, ‘I am human.’ He called himself human."
She says when reaching out to help others, religion shouldn’t matter. “I think beyond every anger, especially anger from people in this situation, there is a good heart. I want to reach there.”
There is a driving power inside her to care for those in need, Ghafouri says.
That’s why in August, “when I heard and when I saw on TV what was going on” she left her surgical practice and traveled to the area. “I saw by my own eyes,” she says. “I could not go back to Sweden.”
Right now, she continues, “my home is this camp. I have literally been living in this camp.”
It is hard work. Bajed Kandala 2 contains 950 tents, some housing two or three families. And the medical clinic serves between 500 and 600 people a day.
“This is my life and this is what I have chosen and I won’t regret it one day of my life.”
Ghafouri's love for people is reflected in her work.
“I don’t want you to get an infection,” she pleads with one patient who she hopes will follow her advice.
Others line up to talk to the doctor. “I can’t promise you anything,” she tells another internally displaced person seeking refuge in the camp. “But I will ask the people for a tent.”Comment on this story
Then Ghafouri looks outside the camp where two families wait. “They don’t have anywhere to stay,” she explains. “The situation is very, very bad for them.”
It is obvious she has set her surgeon’s mind to find a solution for the families, just as she will find a way to fix the bakery.
Soon, she says, the bakery workers will double bread production, baking 30,000 loaves morning and evening instead of 15,000.
Speaking of the people she is serving each day, she explains: “In the wintertime they need more bread.”