2018 in Review
Back to Iraq
After the Kurdish independence referendum in September 2017, the Iraqi army campaign to recapture the Nineveh Plains and Mosul from Isis, and the closure of the airspace above Erbil, we finally managed to return to Iraqi in October, 2018.
What has changed
In the region, the liberation of Mosul has meant that the rebuilding of the Nineveh Plains has begun in earnest, supported by grants from foreign governments and NGOs. The former campsites for the IDPs in Ankawa stand empty, though the huge camps on the outskirts of the city remain.
The problems facing the communities of Ankawa have likewise developed.
After so many years of disruption, there is one overarching concern: restoring and sustaining a community that can endure. Tens of thousands have already left the country, joining the wider diaspora of peoples from the Nineveh Plains. Civic society and the church need to both help rebuild what has been lost and also to promise a future for all.
However, as the focus on the fighting has moved back into Syria, the fate of the survivors has faded in the wider media. The community is facing a continuing struggle to remind the world of its precarious existence in a fragile state.
Thanks to the efforts of the invaluable John Neill, we were able to meet twice with Archbishop Warda, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil to learn his priorities for the next few years. He met with the Vice President of the US the previous week, so we felt very privileged!
The Archbishop made it clear that if the Christian community is going to survive in Iraq, and, indeed if the state itself is going to heal and flourish, then they need to renew their education system: ‘Critical thinking is our best hope for peace in the future.” As a small charity, he gave us two tasks:
To provide whatever help we could, particularly in terms of creating access to expertise, for the schools in the diocese;
To continue to help ensure that they are not forgotten by the people of the UK.
Sister Samar and her school for IDP children
Thanks to our generous donors, we were able to act immediately on the Archbishop’s request. Sister Samar Mikha, a sister of the Daughters of Jesus’ Sacred Heart, is headmistress of a new school in Erbil. Set up in the immediate wake of the 2014 crisis when the order fled from Mosul to Erbil, the school was initially a nursery to help the children of IDP families. As those children have grown, however, the needs of the school have likewise developed, first into primary education and now towards secondary.
Sister Samar’s 50 students now include children from local families alongside the former IDP children, from kindergarten through the first years of Primary. They students are a mix of Christian and Muslim children with religious instruction provided for both, according to the local Iraqi National Curriculum. Upstairs in the portacabin classrooms, a makeshift chapel awaits its furnishings. However, there are more urgent priorities.
In order to function as a school, Sister Samar has to comply with a range of regulations set by the Iraqi National Education system. High on this list was the provision of a Science Laboratory. As we had our tour, Sister explained that they had to borrow materials from the local Diocesan school, and showed us a room empty apart from a solitary microscope and a set of electronic weights. Without a significant investment, she explained, they would not meet the regulatory requirements for a school and so could face closure.
In the same way, we were shown into a room furnished with desks and chairs, but otherwise empty. This was to be the computer classroom, Sister explained, the most highly-valued subject amongst parents. Unfortunately, however, there was only one computer in the whole school.
Thanks to the generosity particularly of students from our donor schools, we were able to donate sufficient funds to Sister Samar to develop both the Science Laboratory and the Computer Room. The school is safe from closure and able to offer a much wider range of educational opportunities for its students. Difficulties and shortfalls remain for the future, but the shorter term is more secure.
Mar Qardakh School
Mar Qardakh School is ground-breaking: it is the first school in Iraq to offer the International Baccalaureate. Intended as a flagship for education, both for diocesan schools and the wider culture of Iraq, Mar Qardakh is the Archbishop’s focus on critical thinking in physical form. With 333 students, the school buzzes with activity.
We were lucky to meet with Sally Boya, the Headmistress, who explained the challenges of delivering the IB in a country which does not recognise it. Another difficulty is the fact that there are no teaching qualifications in Iraq, nor specific University courses. The teachers at Mar Qardakh have university degrees but little access to pedagogical research nor the latest techniques for teaching and learning.
Following our meeting, we are delighted to have agreed with MQS to provide a three week course of IB training, teaching and learning professional development and English language tuition. For more details, please see: Summer CPD 2019.
The Trauma Centre
We have in the past been able to support the Centre for the Self in Need in Erbil and it was a humbling experience for two of our trustees to visit it for the first time and hear of its excellent work firsthand. The centre provides trauma therapy for survivors of the 2014 crisis, including women raped by ISIS fighters and those scarred by the experience of flight and terror. We were particularly pleased to hear that the centre was able to afford to bring in professional psychotherapists alongside the work that they do.
Thanks to your generosity, we were able to make a donation of $2000 to help support the centre in its continuing work.