Iraqi grandmother faces daily battle caring for 22 children

August 27, 2018

Sana Ibrahim (C-L, behind), a 61-year-old Iraqi matriarch and caretaker for 22 grandchildren, sits with her family in a courtyard in their home in the northern city of Mosul. Photo: AFP

More than a year since the Islamic State group’s expulsion from Mosul, Sana Ibrahim bears daily hardship to look after her 22 grandchildren, after losing five family members during the militant group’s occupation of the Iraqi city.

Dressed in a long black robe, 61-year-old Sana never seems to stop.

She is surrounded by children — little girls with pigtails and little boys in colourful t-shirts, the youngest of whom is just two years old.

She also cares for her 71-year-old husband, Mowafaq Hamid, who has Alzheimer’s disease.

Sana’s greatest challenge is finding enough food for the household, which in total comprises 32 people.

During the jihadists’ three-year rule of Mosul, her sons Fares and Ghazwan were abducted by the Islamic State group, along with her son-in-law Massud.

The men were members of the security forces and considered “apostates” by IS.

The group probably killed them, says Sana, who hopes one day to find their bodies.

Throughout the IS occupation, hundreds of government soldiers and police officers were kidnapped and executed by the jihadists, their bodies dumped in mass graves around the northern city.

Iraqi forces launched an offensive in 2016 to retake Mosul, prompting a months-long battle into the heart of the city which culminated in the jihadists’ ouster in July 2017.

Two of Sana’s other children were killed in the battle. Her 20-year-old son Youssef and her daughter Nour, 18, were shot by snipers as they tried to flee their longtime home in the Old City.

Living on donations

The historic district of western Mosul was devastated in the fighting.

Sana and her family had to rush to find a new place to live after their home was destroyed.

They moved to the eastern part of the city, paying 500,000 dinars ($430) a month to rent a house where they squeeze into a 150 square metre (1,600 sq foot) space.

Paying the rent is a struggle for Sana, whose four surviving children are all unemployed.

“We live thanks to the donations of charitable souls in Mosul. Without them we would have already have died from hunger and illness,” she said.

During AFP’s visit, one such benefactor appeared bearing bags of clothes and food.

The civil servant said she gives part of her monthly salary and that of her son to help struggling families.

She is far from the only one to help, said Sana as she separated two squabbling grandchildren and cleaned the face of a third.

In the small kitchen behind Sana, her youngest son’s wife was busy preparing food for the increasingly impatient children.

Future hopes

Despite her busy daily life, Sana was clear when asked about her hopes for the future.

She wants her grandchildren “to study so that they can find good jobs and can get by,” she added.

“I don’t want them to beg on the streets like many other orphans.”

In the absence of official statistics, non-governmental organisations have estimated there are more than 3,000 orphans in Mosul.

Sana is already “very proud” of her grandchildren who are old enough to attend school, all of whom passed their end-of-year exams.

Ahead of the new academic year, 12-year-old Iman was enthusiastic about returning to the classroom.

“At the moment I’m at secondary school, but I want to continue my studies,” she said, as her grandmother looked on.

“I will go to university and become a doctor.”