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A social worker by training, Sister Wardeh counsels families struggling with domestic violence and the pain associated with it. Families have come to trust her and rely on her for guidance. She often finds herself at their homes, listening to their fears, holding their hands and helping them cope with their situations.

“Poverty brings out every type of problem between children and their parents. They have no money to go anywhere or do anything. There is no work. Women and their husbands argue over whether they should have left Iraq. They are home all day long, all the time,” Sister Wardeh said.

Between running the school, counseling families and distributing food stamps, rent and other day-to-day necessities, Sister Wardeh manages a tight work schedule. But she still makes time each day to listen to the smiling school children sing the Iraqi national anthem – and she too smiles.

Sister Wardeh ends her workday with a Bible lesson, which she teaches at the convent school.

Tuesday evening classes draw a particularly large group of both children and parents. The convent’s basement is transformed into a forum and social group for Iraqi refugees. The room is packed with people. Inam, her daughter Flora and Ban sit side by side. A hush falls over the room and all heads bow when Sister Wardeh begins a short prayer. She then takes up the day’s lesson and all eyes in the room rise and converge on her; the group is mesmerized and perfectly still. Tonight, she is teaching the story of Abraham.

For a few short hours, the participants leave behind their worries and gather the strength to move forward despite the seemingly impossible and unending challenges in their lives – at least for one more day.

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Formerly with The Associated Press, Diane Handal covers events in the Middle East.

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Tags: Iraq Refugees Middle East Iraqi Christians Jordan