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Education a Priority for Church Agencies Aiding Iraqis

12 Feb 2015 – By Dale Gavlak

SHARIAH COLLECTIVE, Iraq (CNS) — Young children happily sing songs in Kurdish and Arabic, play interactive games, learn to count and how to read and write under a big colorful tent. Meanwhile, teens and pre-teens study more serious subjects.

It’s all part of a pilot project called Child-Friendly Spaces that Catholic Relief Services and Caritas are using to help Iraq’s religious minority children heal after being traumatized by the violence and displacement experienced at the hands of Islamic State militants.

With most of Iraq’s displaced youth out of school because there are no places in existing institutions, CRS and Caritas staff members said the key to restoring hope is helping them resume their education.

“Of course, the people are affected greatly by the war and crisis after IS attacked and took control of their villages. They are very worried about the future,” said Omar, a project officer for the program who is among the displaced from the strategic Iraqi town of Sinjar. He and others asked that their last names not be used because of fear of repercussion from the militants against family and friends.

“The spaces are to fill the empty time, rather than have children bored or playing in the streets. Now they have a place to organize their time,” he said at one of four child-friendly spaces run by the program, about 30 minutes from Dohuk.

About 1,100 children are involved in the program, said Hani El-Mahdi, CRS Iraq country representative.

“The plan is to set up eight more child-friendly spaces. They all started with private donations. We also need to increase the scale and attract some more private funds,” El-Mahdi explained.

“Definitely the children have missed this school year, but we don’t want them to miss the next school year,” El-Mahdi added.

Islamic State militants attacked Mosul in June and its surrounding villages on the Ninevah Plain and Sinjar in August, thrusting 800,000 displaced Iraqis into the Kurdish region.

A delegation of U.S. Catholics — led by Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, in conjunction with CRS — visited northern Iraq on 16-20 January to see international church agencies’ work among Iraq’s internally displaced Christians and other religious minorities.

A number of the displaced, such as Omar, are working with CRS and Caritas, sharing their knowledge of what people are experiencing and suggesting ways to help.

The displaced include Christians who taught at the University of Mosul and Muslims and Yazidis, who worked for the United Nations or have professional degrees and are using their expertise to help other displaced minorities.

Yasser, a Christian from the predominantly Christian village of Qaraqosh, said he owned two homes and two businesses before fleeing with his family to a tiny village outside of Dohuk. There, his family and those of his three brothers all share a small, cramped dwelling.

“IS stole everything we had,” Yasser said. “If we were to return home, we might just find walls. IS is now booby-trapping the houses so if the owner returns and opens the door, the house will explode.”





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Tags: Iraqi Christians Education Iraqi Refugees Relief Iraqi