In a small, poorly-lit cabin in the Rwanga refugee camp in northern Iraq, 12 Yazidi women have come to learn to box. They are the “Boxing Sisters”.
They had to flee their homes in the face of the relentless advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) group. Now they have found a place to call their own; it didn’t take long before the boxing classes became their favourite activity.
“Back in my village, I took every opportunity to learn any kind of sport. I was a member of my school basketball team and we made it to the regional competition once,” says Husna, 17.
When the ISIL attacked Husna’s village in Sinjar, her family had to run for their lives, leaving everything behind.
“It was at seven in the morning that my uncle received a text message from one of our relatives who lives in another village. He said that ISIL was on the way and we had to leave immediately. When I try to remember those days, my heart starts to beat so fast, my breathing gets heavier and I feel dizzy,” she says.
Husna and her family ended up in Rwanga, one of the biggest camps for internally displaced persons in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Most of the 15,000 population are Yazidis who have taken shelter in the camp since 2014.
The Boxing Sisters project was launched at Rwanga by Lotus Flower, a British non-profit organisation that focuses on female refugees. It aims to improve the physical and mental health of women whose lives have been affected by conflict and sexual violence.
The project was well-received, and is growing.
“About 40 others have signed up for the next course,” says Vian Ahmed, regional manager of the Lotus Flower centres.
A male kickboxer trains the group now, but Lotus Flower aims to enable the women themselves to continue the project. Husna will be the first of a few select Boxing Sisters who will learn to become the next trainers in Rwanga and other camps.
Husna says she feels safe and supported when she is with her fellow boxers. “We have been through similar adversities and that makes us close, as close as sisters,” she says, her words meeting with murmurs of approval from the women in the room, “It reminds me of what it was like to have a home.”