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Refugee camp in Iraq

New hope for Iraq  

In response to the enormous suffering and destruction caused by the IS terrorist group, ZOA began providing aid in Iraq in 2014. Now, ten years later, we are ending our work there because our mandate is over. ZOA programme director Edwin Visser says with gratitude: “We have been able to give hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq new hope.”

ZOA is leaving Iraq after ten years

‘Our presence truly gave hope in the midst of devastation’

Displaced people from Iraqi wars and the IS occupation, Syrian refugees, people returning home after their flight and host communities: ZOA was there for them with emergency aid and to help rebuild their lives. ZOA did this together with the population in Kurdistan, Mosul, Hamdaniya, Baghdad and Anbar.

Bread at the bakery

ZOA started in the plains of Nineveh by providing food, clean drinking water, sanitary facilities, money and shelter to displaced people who had fled IS. After the liberation of Mosul in 2017, ZOA helped reopen a bakery, at that time the only place in West Mosul where you could buy bread. This marked the start of supporting returnees during their return.

In this way, we helped entrepreneurs to reopen their businesses, giving the local economy a new boost. “The third and most decisive milestone was ZOA's sustainable livelihood recovery and peacebuilding initiative. Farmers, schoolchildren, teachers, parents and guardians were trained in the field of (climate-proof) agriculture, psychosocial support and prevention of violent extremism,” says John Panga, until recently director of ZOA in Iraq.


The mental impact of this cannot be underestimated, John indicates. “When Iraqis saw our logo, they knew that people in the Netherlands were thinking about them and cared about them. We showed our compassion, granted them dignity and helped as we would help ourselves. Our presence truly provided hope in the midst of devastation.

ZOA also committed itself to children born during the conflict and children who have suffered a lot of trauma. ZOA created one of the first child-friendly spaces in west Mosul, after the liberation in 2017. Activities in those centers helped children process their traumas.”

Shop in Iraq


John has met many Iraqis who can testify to that hope. “I met a farmer in southern Baghdad two years ago. He complained: nothing was good anymore and he almost gave up farming. But ZOA trained him in modern irrigation methods. He received an irrigation package and Dutch seed potatoes, and was linked to a potato chip factory where he could sell his harvest at a good profit. When I recently visited him, he said he saw perspective again!”

Another example. “During a ZOA farewell party I met a teacher from Mosul. He had never recognized that religious extremism was an obstacle to the peace process. But after studying the curriculum to counter extremism, he said: “It is a slow process to unlearn what we have learned over the centuries, but I now understand that this was not useful for our society. Our way of thinking led to distrust within the community. I thank ZOA for initiating this subtle but positive change in our next generation.


The moment of departure is always a difficult one, but our mandate in Iraq is over. We are there for people who have lost everything due to a war or a disaster. We provide emergency assistance and remain faithful by helping to build a new life. Until they can save themselves again.

John agrees: “Displaced people who have returned are extremely resilient in rebuilding their lives. I also see that the government and civil society, for example, are putting their weight behind reconstruction. The country now has its own resources to contribute to sustainable recovery and development. And local organizations can now continue ZOA's work themselves.”

Boy in Iraq


ZOA program director Edwin Visser: “We can conclude our program in Iraq with our heads held high, grateful and humble, because we were able to mean so much to hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq. We were able to give them hope. Thanks to our very dedicated employees in Iraq. But also thanks to our loyal supporters - private individuals, churches, entrepreneurs and donors in the Netherlands - who have contributed generously to the reconstruction of Iraq. Unforgettable!”

Find out how ZOA's work continues in Iraq