“#SAVEOURGIRLS” Flickering Lights in ISIS Darkness

November 20, 2015

The infamous hashtag, #SaveOurGirls,  tweeted by United States First Lady made international headlines and started a world-wide campaign to save 300 girls from Boko Haram.

Yet, after one year of beheadings by ISIS on world-wide headlines, did we think to ask of the whereabouts of the 4,000 girls still in their captivity? Or did we allow the agenda of Western media and its politics to dim our hope and turn our heads from the truth?

Traveling as I write this in the back of an RV, 15 minutes away from ISIS occupation in Iraq, I reflect on my journey atop Sinjar mountain, almost one year ago to date. It was there where ISIS fighters were firing our way and the once clear sky was dimmed by smoky clouds and black flags. I heard the giggles of Amin, our driver, praising the Peshmerga army for this week’s victory in global headlines, the re-capture of Sinjar town from ISIS.  My mother, best friend, and I were on this mission together wondering what the future held for this beautiful country and its brave people.

Almost one year ago, just a day after having a cozy Thanksgiving meal with my family  in my California home, I flew out and stepped in to the cold, rainy and muddy camps of the displaced in Iraq for the very first time. It was during that first journey that the “ISIS CRISIS” began to shake the Middle Eastern region.

It may have been the dark headlines that brought me to Iraq for the first time in 2014 but it was a certain light still visible in the eyes of rescued girls that made me return not once, or even twice, but numerous times. Their beautiful eyes displaying flickering lights of hope brought me here for a fourth time today.

I reflect on a certain set of flickering eyes, the eyes of Ekhlas, a fifteen year old girl that escaped after being tortured and raped by wild blood thirsty animals, AKA ISIS fighters. It was when her eyes met mine, that I knew that I would never be able to turn back the clock and un-see what I was about to see.

We met Ekhlas with many young rescued girls in Iraq. We arranged to meet them at a park outside the usual camp environment and created a dream workshop. It was there where, together, we dreamt of the future, played games, and had a meal. As we each spoke of our dreams of the future, Ekhlas’ turn came…She raised her hand with boldness and stated, “Whether it takes life or even death…My dream is to save my sisters in captivity..” I captured this exact moment recorded through a friend’s phone and shared her dream with the United States Congress and millions on C-SPAN.  What Ekhlas did not realize was that her courage in making that statement would remind government leaders of their humanity  and make decisions to do the very thing she wanted, help her sisters.

On August 3rd, 2014, at 3AM, Ekhlas awakened to a banging at her door.  Little did she know, once that door opened, the lives of her and her family would be forever changed. An ISIS fighter was at the other side of the door with a machine gun screaming at them all to come outside. Clenching her father’s shaking hand, they followed the orders of the fighter. On the outside were hundreds of fathers and brothers rounded into groups while girls were rounded into buses. The men were all killed in front of her.

Ekhlas’ father and brother were killed right in front of her house. After trying to commit suicide by cutting herself and taking 250 pills, she was taken to the hospital just in time before dying. She knew that if she lived, she must have lived for something…some greater purpose. Although she managed to escape after two failed attempts, her soul sisters were still in captivity and she decided not to stop until she helped them. She wanted to be an attorney to help advocate for her sisters and all victims of sex trafficking but didn’t know how to start.

Ekhlas has received asylum in Germany and a month ago I traveled to reunite with her in an attempt to brighten the flickering lights. I drove from Switzerland to Germany with a car loaded full of Mac computers, donated by a local school for them. We set them up and decided to connect with them daily through an online educational program entitled Tech Over Trauma.

Today, the RV dropped us off back at the camp in Iraq, re-uniting with the girls who remained. We will provide continuous support for the rescued brave girls in Iraq and Germany with the hopes that they will  become tomorrow’s leaders. The launch of Tech Over Trauma within the camp will inspire, teach English and the arts while providing psychological counseling.

The aim is to not only connect the girls to the world online but also to connect them with their rescued sisters in Iraq, and to re-spark the flicker in their eyes, hopefully, for a lifetime.


-Jacqueline Isaac