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Despite Obstacles, A Yazidi Woman Is Determined To Change Her Life


All right. And let's meet another determined young woman now. She is from war-torn Iraq. She's a member of the Yazidi minority. Even before her community was targeted by ISIS, Yazidi girls weren't given many choices. NPR's Jane Arraf reports on what she did.

HADIYA HASKAN: I said, surprise! He said, what? (Laughter). Are you serious? I said, yeah. And I kissed him. I said, happy birthday.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hadiya Haskan is showing me a photo on her phone. She's 19, a high school student and a newlywed, living in a tent in a camp for displaced Yazidis. Her husband just turned 23, and she surprised him with a cake. There are still balloons on the canvas walls. This isn't the life that Haskan dreamed of when she ran away from home so she could finish school. She was 15. Her parents had said, enough school. It was time for her to marry. Haskan said...

HASKAN: But I don't know anything about love. No? Don't want to get married? What's wrong with you, all of you?

ARRAF: She's from a village in Sinjar. None of her five older sisters had ever gone to school, but Haskan insisted. It was a two-hour walk, and when she couldn't go, she studied at home with her brother's books. Everything changed when ISIS came to Sinjar. The ISIS campaign against the ancient Yazidi minority is considered genocide. Haskan and her family escaped. When I first met her last summer, she still had big dreams. She wanted to go to college, maybe in America. She wanted to be a writer. When I came back a few months later, she was married. She says she did it because her family was desperate for money.

HASKAN: Our family situation is very, very bad. I have to go to the doctor, and there is not money. My brother wanted to go to the college. There is no money.

ARRAF: The dowry was about $3,000, enough to pay for medical bills and for her brother to go to college. She says it's OK because she loves her husband.

HASKAN: He said, I love you and so I want to marry to you and something like that. And said, OK. Me too, love you. It's all right. I will marry you.

ARRAF: And he seems pretty great. Amin Shani Bagi is smart. He's at the top of his political science class in university. He's handsome.

AMIN SHANI BAGI: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: And he says he'd like it if Haskan went to college. She shows me a wedding photo. They didn't have money for a wedding dress, but she says, someday. Haskan says she learned English from a dictionary she borrowed when she was a little girl.

HASKAN: "Anne Frank" and "The World Is Flat."

ARRAF: She shows me her collection of five books on a stand under the TV. One of them is "The Diary Of Anne Frank," the journal of the Jewish teenager during the Holocaust.

HASKAN: I really loved Anne Frank. Like me, she was maybe 14 or 15. In this country, in Iraq, you can see there is the war here. What I am thinking is she was same situation, like me.

ARRAF: Haskan survived ISIS. Her dreams have taken a beating, but the determination of that little girl who studied a dictionary is still there. Jane Arraf, NPR News, near Dohuk, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.