For a young Yazidi woman who survived upheaval and displacement in northern Iraq, hope and stability finally arrived in an unexpected form: plump brown quails, and their tiny speckled eggs.
UNDP provided Gulistan and Nashwan with 250 quails and trained the couple in quail breeding
Since late 2016, the couple have sold 10,000 eggs and 260 birds at local markets and supermarkets
Quail farming is gaining popularity in Iraq because it requires relatively low investment and maintenance compared to other poultry farming
Gulistan, 23, lives in the predominantly Christian and Yazidi district of Alqosh in the northern reaches of Ninewah Governorate.
In the summer of 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) swept through the city of Mosul and the surrounding Ninewah Plains in a wave that faced little initial resistance.
When ISIL approached Alqosh, Gulistan and her 27-year-old husband Nashwan frantically fled their home along with 14 family members, worried that as members of the Yazidi minority, they would be targeted by ISIL.
From struggle to hope
After months of displacement in the neighbouring Duhok Governorate, they returned to their home, but had trouble rebuilding their lives.
“We were struggling to make ends meet after we returned. We depended on financial support from our relatives. We were going through a terribly difficult time,” recalls Gulistan.
Things changed when Gulistan and her husband found a new way to make ends meet with help from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Part of UNDP’s Iraq Crisis Response and Resilience Programme (ICRRP), a livelihoods project is assisting nearly 900 households in Ninewah, helping displaced people, returnees, and host community members, earn an income through poultry breeding, bee-keeping, kitchen gardening and fish farming.
UNDP provided Gulistan and Nashwan with 250 quails and trained the couple in quail breeding, with help from the Duhok College of Agriculture, the local NGO Zakho Small Village (ZSV), and generous funding from the Government of Germany.
Quail farming is gaining popularity in Iraq because it requires relatively low investment and maintenance compared to other poultry farming. Quail eggs are known for powerful health benefits.
Empowered and more
Since late 2016, Gulistan and Nashwan have sold 10,000 eggs and 260 birds at local markets and supermarkets.
“We now earn around US$250 (300,000 Iraqi dinars) per month,” says Nashwan, as he meticulously inspects the notebook where he and his wife track their earnings.
After so many months of displacement and struggle, not knowing if they would ever find work, they finally have a sustainable income, and a source of hope for the future.
The couple can now afford more food, clothes, fuel, and medical care for themselves and their newborn daughter Mariana.
They do not have to depend on support from relatives, and they are paying off all their debts.
Providing vulnerable people with the skills and materials to build a livelihood not only helps meet basic needs, but also empowers women and improves gender relations at the household level.
“My husband was rarely home when he was jobless,” says Gulistan.
“But since we embarked on this project, he has been spending more time with me, taking care of our quails. We support each other and I feel that our relationship is better.
I am glad I can contribute to our household expenses and everyone in my family appreciates my work. Life has improved so much since we were selected for the project.” Nashwan agrees.
“My wife has full control over our income. She would know better than I what our needs are.”
Encouraging others to return
Those who left Alqosh because of ISIL, like Gulistan and Nashwan, are returning home.
And thanks to the impact of UNDP’s ICRRP, many who went abroad, like Nashwan’s brother, are preparing to return as well.
“My brother fled to Germany for a safer life,” says Nashwan. “[But] I told him about my quail farming business. I told him there is a window of hope for us. He is planning to come back to Alqosh.”
“The crisis has been devastating for many families in this area. We were so desperate,” adds Gulistan.
“But now I have my dignity back. I do not need anyone’s help as long as we continue with our quail farming. I can even support my extended family. I can see a better future ahead!”