by Kwestan Zangana
It had been around 14 years since I had left school. Like many women, I had spent most of these years raising my children and looking after my husband. However, without real access to money, either via savings or as a monthly income, I was becoming increasingly aware of my straightened financial circumstances. Although, organisations, particularly the Kurdish regional government (KRG) were hiring, I didn’t think for a moment that I might be suitable to apply. Like many women of my generation, I had completed 12 years of education and acquired a high school degree in the process but this seemed like a lifetime ago – totally removed from the person I was now. In some ways of course it was; it was pre 2003 (when the Baghdad regime was overthrown and Iraq was liberated) and I hadn’t been a wife and mother!
Then one day, our neighbour – an old woman in her 70s, paid me a visit. In a question that hit me like a slap in the face, she asked me whether I had a high-school diploma. Feeling as if I were awaking from a deep sleep, I told her that I did indeed hold this qualification.
In words that have guided my path ever since, she replied:
“My daughter let me give you an advice, as from a mother to her daughter. This youth and strength you have now will not last, try to think about your future and get a job. The cost of living is high and you need to ensure you personally are able to make enough money to keep food on the table for your family.”
She then went on to tell me her story. She had lost her husband around 30 years ago in the fight to liberate Kurdistan. She had two sons and worked the entire day in women’s public bathroom. In return she got clothes and also a very small amount of money. Then one day a woman took her aside and gave her some advice she would treasure for the rest of her life; just as she was now doing for me. This stranger shared with her that the work she was doing at that time had no future. Instead, it would make much more sense to find something in the public sector. Being a sensible kind of women, my neighbour took the advice she had been given to heart and started work as a cleaner at the Ministry of Agriculture. As she was telling me her story she shared that many people mocked her new position. However (and again these words have stayed with me):
“My pay check was in dollars and I didn’t need anyone!”
I didn’t act immediately. Creating the self-sufficiency she had described seemed like a daunting prospect to me. However, her advice hadn’t fallen on deaf ears. Three months later I had successfully applied for a job at a school near our house. A year on and I decided I wanted to continue my education and registered in the international law school of Saint Clements. It took me four years to complete my college degree. As a graduate I was then able to apply for -and subsequently be hired as – the role of library director at the University of Suleimania. As my confidence grew, I felt the call of politics and started work for a political party. This eventually resulted my accepting the prestigious role of area Vice-President. Now, I am an important member of Kurdistan’s National Union Party. I then completed my Master’s Degree in Law at the Elsa International University. I do think I have been bitten with the’ educational bug’ though, and am in the process of completing my PHD in the Philosophy of International Law. My passion for the law has recently led me to form the “Organisation for Transitional Justice”. So, despite all the obstacle and difficulties of life, I find myself being well paid for doing a job I love. I am very lucky.
Not everyone though, has a friendly neighbour like I did to hold their hands and direct them to a path that is right for them. So, if you are like I was, and have simply forgotten life beyond the home and what you might be capable of, I am writing this for you!
I will always be grateful to my neighbour. Her advice put me on this wonderful path and has led me to the accomplishments and successes I am now able to call my own. I do hope my story is able to touch you in the same way.
Kwestan Zangana is the Director of Elsa International University Library, a Member of the Kurdish National Union Party, Head of the Transitional organization for Justice and a Phd student, studying the Philosophy International Law.