SOUTH Somerset may have so far escaped the ravages of a harsh winter, but one Wincanton aid worker has thrown himself into bitter conditions to help tackle a huge humanitarian crisis. Former pupil of Our Lady’s of Mount Carmel in Wincanton Tom Badham-Thornhill, 25, of Holton has been based in Erbil, the capital city of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq for the past year.
He has been working with aid charity Rise Foundation, and now, he has issued an appeal from the front-line urging people to buy a blanket as part of a concerted mission to help hundreds of thousands of refugees – forced to leave their homes as a result of the war in Syria – as the sub-zero Kurdish winter sets in.
“I first came to Kurdistan with a friend in April 2013 to have an adventure and make a film,” said Mr Badham-Thornhill. “We bought traditional Kurdish clothes in the market and walked along the Hamilton Road, an historic road to the Iranian border at Haji Omaran, 180 kilometres away.
To our embarrassment, we had to rely entirely on Kurdish hospitality as we walked, which was very generous and incredibly touching. It left a deep impression, especially as many of the people who invited us into their houses and talked about their lives had been forced by violence to flee from their homes.
It is these stories of bravery and generosity that encouraged us to return for something far more serious and important – to help and to become an aid worker.” Returning to the region in October 2013 to work with an aid organisation, he encountered the Rise Foundation and was so impressed by the work they were carrying out that he eagerly signed up.
He said: “Rise Foundation is tiny, with a staff of only seven, but this is a benefit as it brings manoeuvrability. Our flexibility enables us to target some of those who are most in need of help and who may not be benefiting from help already.
“Since June hundreds of thousands of people have fled from ISIS – or Da‘ash as they are known here – into the Kurdistan region. They have arrived so suddenly and in such great numbers that although much has been done already the UN, the aid agencies and the government cannot help everyone, more resources are needed.
Now, refugees from Kobane are entering Kurdistan in their thousands as well.” Rise Foundation is working hard to buy thick blankets, large enough to cover several young children and to keep them warm through the bitter Kurdish winter.
The foundation has launched its #BuyABlanket campaign. These blankets will be distributed in Duhok, the smallest and most northerly province of Iraq, which has taken in 63 per cent of all the internally displaced people in Kurdistan and a quarter of all the displaced people in the whole of Iraq.
One in three of its current population is from elsewhere. In the town of Zakho the proportion of internally displaced people to locals is almost 1:1. Mr Badham-Thornhill added: “Every £7 that you can give will provide a high-quality blanket to a family in need.
This may be Iraq, but the reality is far away from the media images of Desert Storm. 850,000Eight hundred and fifty thousand displaced people have found refuge in the three provinces of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Many fled with little except the clothes on their back. Some have found shelter in high altitude areas where winter temperatures can drop to -16°C.
This is a real war, with real people who face a bitter winter with not enough to keep them warm. Displaced people here need much more than just a blanket, but it is beyond our capacity to tackle the whole humanitarian disaster unfolding, and we feel that a blanket is the cheapest way that we can get warmth to the maximum amount of people.”
For more information or to #BuyABlanket visit www.rise-foundation.org/buyablanket/
By WG Stephen