We do not hear much good news for Christians from Iraq nowadays, so I was encouraged to hear about a new school there that, against all odds, is achieving great success in turning angry and confused young refugee kids into enthusiastic students.
It is run by Father Douglas Bazi, a Chaldean Christian priest, and I was able to set up a Skype connection to chat with him about his activities.
In fact, Father Bazi has previously achieved a degree of renown. He was once kidnapped by Islamists. They used a hammer to break his teeth, his knees and his back. The torment only ended when his church paid a ransom to win his release. But he was forced to spend a year in bed, recovering from his injuries.
He is now priest at Mar Elias church in a secure part of Iraq, in Ankawa, a Christian suburb of Erbil, which is the capital of Kurdistan. Though just 80 kilometres from ISIS-controlled Mosul, the region is well protected and ISIS is not deemed a threat.
His church has a large, sprawling garden, and Christians fleeing the genocide of ISIS have found sanctuary there, living in 120 caravans.
It is among the caravans that he has launched his new school, staffed by volunteers and aimed at giving education – and hope – to some 200 youngsters, and to their parents as well.
Several caravans are classrooms. One is a computer lab. There is also a library. He wanted to take the children to the cinema, but it was expensive. So he was able to acquire a large television set, and another of the caravans is now a cinema.
“I want to give the children a future,” he said. “I want them to be creative. We must not transfer our hatreds to them.”
His programs seem to be working. Youngsters and adults arrived angry and aggressive, and traumatized from their experiences. With little to occupy them in their new environment they then became restless and depressed.
Now, thanks to the school and an extensive program that incorporates sports and drama classes, as well as more traditional subjects, he is witnessing enormous changes. The students have become happy, enthusiastic learners. Their parents have found a sense of community. A feeling of peace and joy embraces the caravans. Some of the families have refused to leave when given the chance to be resettled in apartments.
The students learn English, among other subjects, and Father Bazi has a request.
“I need books,” he told me. “Especially picture books for the younger children, but also books suitable for older children and adults.” Rather than novels he would prefer collections of short stories, as well as non-fiction titles with lots of illustrations.
If you feel you have suitable books that you could donate please email Father Douglas at firstname.lastname@example.org.