Youth volunteers from Bashiqa, a city north-east of Mosul famous for its olive trees, have been working to restore their city's beauty now that Iraqi forces have driven out the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL).
The campaign, known as "The Olive Grove", was conceived after ISIL's ouster in November and officially launched at the beginning of this year, organisers said.
"I was in touch with young men and women from my city on Facebook, and we decided to set up this campaign and start working once the removal of explosives was complete," campaign volunteer Ziri Kadi, 22, told Diyaruna.
Around 80 young men and women are now working together in groups, each comprising eight volunteers, to carry out this work, she said, which includes cleaning alleys and streets and painting sidewalks and murals.
The work is not without risk, Kadi said, as sometimes the remains of missiles and car bombs are found amid the detritus and need to be removed.
"There are challenges, but our love for our city pushes us to devote all our energy," she said, adding that the volunteers seek to erase the effects of terrorism and create a place where hope, peace and freedom can thrive.
Bashiqa residents have been supporting the campaign by donating money to buy paint and cleaning equipment and contributing to the work, Kadi said.
Al-Rabih, al-Askari, al-Khafir and al-Jameh streets are being worked on, she said, in addition to the neighbourhoods of al-Malayin, al-Atshana and Ras al-Ein.
Perseverance and team work
"Our campaign is characterised by a spirit of perseverance and team work," campaign volunteer Nawras Malullah al-Shamsani told Diyaruna.
"Volunteers are males and females aged 14 to 30," he said, and include students, teachers, employees and activists who are "proud of the efforts they are making to restore their city’s beautiful face and write a new history for it".
This is an independent campaign that receives no support except for small donations and assistance from local residents, al-Shamsani said.
Its goal is to encourage internally displaced persons (IDPs) to return to Bashiqa, which 100,000 people of various sects and ethnicities used to call home, he said.
The pace of return has been slow, however, with just 40 families or so returning to their homes in the city so far, said campaign volunteer Samim Abdullah.
"We have lifted many tonnes of remnants and waste and opened sewage networks, in addition to decoration and painting," he told Diyaruna.
Planting trees, painting homes
"We also are planting trees in public squares," Abdullah said. "We have received 2,500 pine and ornamental tree seedlings from the college of agriculture in Dohuk province and have so far planted about 400 of them."
"We hope in our future plans to increase the number of olive trees for which our city is famous," he added.
The campaign volunteers also plan to help with the restoration and repainting of damaged homes, Abdullah said, and in rebuilding the city’s 12 schools.
Despite the current lack of public services such as electricity and water, he said, "the pace of return is likely to pick up when the current school year ends and the summer vacation begins".
"Many IDPs will only be able to return once classes are over in their children's schools" in displaced areas, he said. "And until that moment comes, we have enough time to continue working."