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ZOA withdraws from Iraq, but the work continues

ZOA has worked in Iraq for ten years, transitioning ‘from relief to recovery’. Now, ZOA is leaving the country to focus on potential new disasters. Fortunately, the work in Iraq continues: former employees and other local initiators join forces to continue building a stronger and more peaceful Iraq.

Interview with Sarah R. Al-Heyalley

Iraqi ZOA employee launches a new aid organisation

'Kanaf' is the name of the new aid organization, focusing primarily on peacebuilding and strengthening society. Kanaf will partly build upon ZOA's projects. "We have mastered this work at ZOA," says Sarah Al-Heyalley.

"Iraq still has a long way to go," says Sarah Al-Heyalley, former employee of ZOA in Iraq. "My ideal is the unity I sensed when I was young, before the 2003 American invasion. Politically, it was a bad time, but I remember there was hardly any tension between different religions or ethnic groups."


Since 2018, Sarah has worked for ZOA in Mosul, which was largely in ruins after bombings. "I have always been involved in peacebuilding. I was a coordinator for aid in Mosul. Together with a local partner, we established safe spaces for children in six locations in Mosul."

Girl in Iraq

“We not only provided education, which had fallen behind due to the war, but also worked on addressing the traumas of children who witnessed terrible things during IS. We also tried to bring together all religions and ethnic groups so that a new generation grows up living in unity."

In recent years, under Sarah's coordination, teachers in Mosul were trained to recognize and counter extremism among students. This was so successful that the Iraqi government is now largely taking over this program.


Over the past year, it became increasingly clear to the team in Iraq that ZOA's mandate was ending, and therefore ZOA would leave. "It would be a waste to stop all the work that ZOA has built up. We have the network, the experience, and the resources to continue this. That's why we want to continue with our own organization," says Sarah.

 The name chosen was 'Kanaf'. "That is an Arabic word that means something like 'shelter', like chicks sitting safely under the wings of the mother. Our mandate is ‘relief and development', and we will continue where ZOA's mandate ends."

Children in Iraq


Partly due to the war, there are many children with disabilities in Mosul. Kanaf's plans prioritize them. Sarah: "We want safe spaces where children with disabilities receive education and engage in social activities alongside other children. This way, these children become much more integrated into society." The new aid organization aims to expand this work to other areas, utilizing local knowledge and expertise.

But first, the financial foundation needs to be in order. "It is not easy to raise funds as a new organization. ZOA has helped us with networking, but at the moment, we have not found donors for our projects. All four founders are currently doing this work as volunteers, hopefully temporarily," says Sarah.


Sarah hopes that Kanaf will help realize her big dream: peace and stability in Iraq. "Iraq was certainly not a paradise before 2003, but I still remember that society was stable and peaceful. That's what I would like to see again in our country: respect among all religions, and peaceful coexistence between ethnic groups with different backgrounds. That's my dream for the future!"

Boy in Iraq