Canadian volunteers helping former ISIS slaves rescued by ‘Jewish Schindler’
As a helicopter buzzes overhead, Sonya Clark and Andrew Rak are preparing to put an injured patient onboard.
This is a drill.
They are trained for any type of emergency – in the air, on water, fire fighting, combat medicine, or the aftermath of a natural disaster.
“The work environment we’re in, it’s remote. It can be rugged. It can be very difficult to access the person. They can be in the water. The vehicle could be overturned. A log could be on the person. There are so many different scenarios in a remote situation,” Andrew Rak told Global News’ 16×9.
WATCH ABOVE: Andrew Rak, a medical and rescue volunteer tells 16×9 about his time in Iraq volunteering for CYCI.
Rak works as an oil and gas consultant by day. Clark is a highly trained primary care paramedic. Her company, Mahwahdayoh Medical Rescue (MMR), based in Grande Prairie, provides care and service for the oil and gas industry – which means if someone is injured or sick, Clark is there to help.
During their vacation time, Rak and Clark don’t go and relax at a resort. Instead, they choose to travel to hot zones around the world to volunteer where they are needed.
“Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras …. now Liberia, Haiti, Japan, and Iraq,” Rak told Global News.
Rak is motivated by a wound of his own. Telling the story, he immediately becomes emotional.
“My brother was killed in Angola … and that’s where it started. He had no medical care for 24 hours … I didn’t want that to happen to somebody else,” Rak said.
It was a offshore rig accident; Rak said the safety apparatus had been removed. His brother was hit by a hose and fell. Andrew wanted to make sure when he’s overseas he can help in any situation – that’s the motivation for all the specialized training – be ready for anything.
This year it was the images of suffering of the Yazidi people that led Clark and Rak to their mission. They read a Facebook post by Steve Maman, a Montreal rare car dealer who is raising money to free Yazidi women and girls.
In August 2014, Islamic State militants stormed Yazidi villages, a religious minority they consider to be heretics; thousands were murdered. For the women who survived, what happened to them some say is worse than death. ISIS kidnapped thousands of women and girls and sold them off or kept them as sex slaves.
“Absolutely I did not have any idea that that was even possible…I was shocked. Shocked and appalled. I said to Andrew … ‘this can’t be right,’” Clark said.
WATCH ABOVE: Sonya Clark explains why she is volunteering with CYCI.
Heartbreaking stories like 19-year-old Farida’s: she escaped, but had been raped repeatedly for months.
“They sold me from one man to the next…the ordeal was even harder on the younger girls,” Farida told NBC News, “They raped girls who were nine, ten years old, or even eight,” she said.
Maman started CYCI – the Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq – and has been raising money to rescue women from inside ISIS-held territory. Maman said he’s trying to emulate the actions of Oskar Schindler, the German businessman who during the Holocaust rescued 1,200 Jews. Maman has been dubbed the “Jewish Schindler.”
Maman has faced some criticism – questions about where the money he raised goes, and if women and girls are actually being rescued. So, before they invested their time and money, Rak and Clark flew from Grande Prairie to Montreal, and showed up at Maman’s office unannounced, to check out CYCI, and Maman.
“When you donate money, you don’t want to give to a charity that’s not really a charity,” Rak said.
After meeting Maman, Rak and Clark said they were convinced his work was legit. So a few weeks later Rak flew to Iraq to help CYCI’s crews on the ground. Rak was there to provide any medical assistance to Yazidis returning to their families after being held. As for his original questions about CYCI’s work, Rak said after volunteering with CYCI, he believes they are rescuing women and girls.
“I saw it. I talked to them, and not just the immediate families, but in the refugee camps. Different people, you know, it would be an unbelievable conspiracy, like it’s so far out there that he’s not doing it … definitely they’re doing it,” said Rak.
WATCH: A cellphone video taken by a CYCI volunteer, shows two Yazidi women, ages 18 and 22, as they are reunited with their loved ones after nearly a year being held enslaved inside ISIS-held territory.
As for how the rescues take place, Maman says his organization has connections that operate quietly in ISIS-held territory. There are also civilians who live there and have enslaved some of the Yazidi women and girls as well. CYCI’s teams find the women and negotiate a way to get them out.
Clark and Rak have donated money, time and resources to CYCI. They plan to go back in the New Year to help more Yazidi women and girls.
They are also helping to manage some of the medical concerns of some of the Yazidis in the refugee camps, sending medication and supplies.
For Clark, this is her life’s mission – to help others.
“For me … to be part of liberating women in a warzone? That’s incredible.”
WATCH ABOVE: Montreal car dealer explains how searching for a rare car in Iraq, led to saving Yazidi women and girls from slavery
With files from Hannah James
“The Jewish Schindler” airs Saturday, Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. on 16×9
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