A UNIVERSITY student from Iraq is helping thousands of survivors who fled the brutality of ISIS – all while studying for a degree in Coventry.
Zinah Mohammed began collecting and distributing life-saving donations of food and warm clothing to thousands of Syrian refugees who fled their homes for safe camps across Iraq in 2013.
The 26 year-old set up the Shine Together charity team, and with support from 20 young volunteers, has since sent lorry loads of food and clothes to displaced families, and helped provide nappies, milk supplies and medical treatment in the camps.
Her efforts saw her chosen as one of 54 international delegates through the Prince’s Trust International Leadership programme – a year-long scheme for young people with the potential to make positive change in their communities.
Zinah explained it was after being forced to leave her own home and watching the devastating effects of war that she decided to use her experiences to help.
And after seeing more and more people fleeing the threat of the terror group after it took control of Mosul in 2014, the Iraqi national said she would not give up despite being 3,000 miles away studying for an International Business Law master’s.
Zinah said: “In 2014 ISIS took part of my country and millions of people had to flee to camps near my home. They were desperate, the winter was so cold they were dying.
“It started with Facebook campaigns so we could send blankets and warm clothes and it just grew. Every weekend I would be organising collections and getting businesses on board to make donations and help with transportation.
“Since I’ve been in Coventry it hasn’t stopped. We have helped pay for two surgeries for a 14 year-old Syrian boy who suffered severe facial burns in an explosion, and are now waiting for the third.
“Keeping up the work while studying has been a challenge but I am in constant touch with the volunteer team back in Iraq to make sure we carry on.
“This is not about nationality or ethnicity – we are all humans. These people are desperate, they just want to be safe. Some of them have not had access to proper food or healthcare for two years under ISIS control.
“Things are getting worse. One of the camps I helped in 2013 had 35,000 people in, now this number has grown and four or five more have been set up.
“I have family who are still trapped and my cousin was killed by ISIS when he refused to join them. But I am inspired by my own experiences and now I consider everything bad I have been through as a privilege because it’s given me the chance to help.
“I strongly believe that we can create change through unity.”
Through the Prince’s Trust, Zinah now plans to create links between children in the UK and Iraqi camps in hope of building an understanding of the struggles faced by refugees and internationally displaced people.
Terry Braithwaite, Coventry Law School course director, said: “Zinah is an inspiring example of how much our students can achieve and the diversity and successes they have both here and internationally.
“Not only is she a Prince’s Trust delegate, but Zinah is working incredibly hard to make a real difference to people in desperate need and we hope that everything she learns with us will help in her dedication to doing good right across the world.”
Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi recently recently declared they had regained control of Mosul from ISIS, but the fight remains far from won.
“I was born in Baghdad where I lived until I was 15 when we have to leave all of a sudden because of the kidnapping threats. I was having to be driven from my house to school which was just one block away.
I never had to live in a camp, and am very privileged to be in that position but still life was very challenging. I can understand what the displaced people feel and much more. I have family who are still trapped and my cousin was killed by ISIS because he refused to join them.
I witnessed the Saddam Hussein regime. I remember in primary school it was normal to be prepared for something happening, we were always made to be prepared so when the war started in 2003 we weren’t that scared, we felt ready.
My father decided the whole family would sleep in one room and we covered the windows with tape and mattresses so we would be safe from any blasts. He wanted us all there so if anything happened we were all in it together.
In 2006 we were forced to move out and went to Kurdistan. All I took was a bag of clothes. It was a big shock, we couldn’t speak the language. It was hard.
Now I consider everything I’ve been through is a privilege even though it was bad. From ISIS coming in to my country, the war, losing my cousin – it has given me the chance to help others and raise awareness to encourage change.
I eventually set up the charity at weekends and in the holidays after graduating from my law degree as I recognised people in situations I had been through and they were desperate.
I am studying for my master’s at Coventry University but I continue to run the charity and work with my team. That will not stop as there is so much to do. I want to leave a mark of positive change regardless where I am.
As part of the Prince’s Trust programme I have met with some amazing youth leaders from around the world, it really has been such an incredible learning journey. Meeting Prince Charles gave me the chance and power to make positive change and see the impact of determination and dedication.
I strongly believe that we can create change through unity, and that by building positive connections between children will lead to wider understanding of equality regardless of nationality, ethnicity or religion.”