Small, but important, steps in the fight against terror

Raymonda Samawi knows what it means to be a refugee. In 1975 she and her family escaped civil war in Lebanon, eventually settling in Saudi Arabia.

Late last year Samawi was once again among refugees, this time helping Yazidis in the village of Sege in Kurdistan, 30 minutes from the Turkish border, and 45 minutes from fighting with ISIS.

Last week, Samawi was in Wilton for National Prayer Day and briefly told those assembled at the event in Wilton Library of her work there as she led a prayer to deliver those suffering in Syria, Iraq and the rest of the Middle East from the hand of terrorism.

A professional dressmaker, Samawi now lives in Pennsylvania. Last year she was visiting family in Saudi Arabia when she met an aid worker who asked her if she would visit with the Yazidi refugees.

She wasn’t sure how she could help, but “by the third day I realized I had a mission,” she told The Bulletin. The people she was helping were primarily widowed women and children whose mountain village in northwestern Iraq was destroyed in 2014 by ISIS. Terrorists killed the village men, and many of the women and children were taken hostage. The village was a Christian village, Samawi said, and ISIS saw the residents as infidels. Those who escaped walked nine days from the mountains to Sege.

“Their stories are beyond belief,” Samawi said.

Ninety percent of the women are illiterate, she said, and unable to adequately support themselves. She saw there were no sewing machines in the village and was able to buy three, as well as fabric.

“I made over 200 dresses for the widows,” she said, noting they wear a specific type of white garment for the rest of their lives. She also made clothing for some of the children. She has been asked to return.

Samawi plans to go back in August and is focusing on providing school uniforms for 1,200 children, who need proper clothing to attend the school UNICEF has set up in trailers.

“The cost is $15 to $20 for each uniform,” she said. “The women there cannot buy even the fabric to make the clothes.”

The students must wear black pants or long black skirts and white shirts. She figures the cost will be $25,000 to $26,000.

Samawi, a convert to Christianity, belongs to a church in Pennsylvania, which is helping her raise money, as is Adrienne Reedy, who invited her to Wilton for the prayer event. Reedy leads the prayer group Morning Meditations with Sisters in Community that meets each week in her Wilton home. So far, they have raised $7,000 to purchase not only the needed fabric but more sewing machines and other supplies. Samawi is also helping to teach the women to sew.

“If they have a skill it will save them from slavery or prostitution,” she said.

The people she is helping live in tents or unfinished houses. Aid groups have helped with blankets, heaters and kerosene.

“Now it’s what’s next,” she said. “Sanitation, medicine, jobs, food, there are shortages of many things.”

Anyone wishing to contribute to help Samawi reach her fund-raising goal may email Reedy at