When Iraqi residents fled their homes during the Islamic State invasion, they left behind their houses, neighbors, and day-to-day lives.
For the children who fled, leaving their home behind also meant an interruption in their education — in some cases for months or years.
While some refugee camps offer classes for children, challenges abound and students often fall behind.
Now, a group of Dominican sisters in one Iraqi town is working to help educate displaced children as their families return to their homes and work to rebuild their lives.
With the support of Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need in Spain, the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Sienna were able to restore their convent, which had been destroyed by the Islamic State in Iraq. Today, they offer classes to hundreds of children who had been displaced by the war.
“We try to help the children, giving them peace: in our convent we offer them a safe place,” Sister Ilham told ACN in late December. Despite the expulsion of ISIS, security in the area remains unstable.
In May 2017, ACN funded the restoration of Our Lady of the Rosary Convent with a grant of $54,000. Located in Teleskuf, north of the plain of Nineveh, the convent is just over 20 miles outside of Mosul.
The sisters worked 12-hour days to prepare the convent to welcome the children, Sister Ilham said.
They provide daycare for children between three and five years old. In the mornings, they teach about 150 children between the ages of six and 12. In the evenings, they teach students 12 years of age and older.
Sister Ilham, 57, was working for a church in Mosul when the rapid advance of the Islamic State forced her and her community to flee. However, after the fall of the terrorist group, she returned to the area and today is helping those displaced from Teleskuf.
“None of us wanted to leave where we come from, but as the attacks continued, we had to flee to save our lives,” she said.
“In 2016 some 6,000 people had to leave Telskuf. When I returned to this area, all the houses were abandoned and many of them destroyed,” she continued. “In Teleskuf all that is left of many of buildings are the ruins. The school and the children's home are destroyed, the doors of the convent were forced open and the sisters' home was sacked.”
In addition to teaching at the convent, the sisters visit the members of the Christian community in their homes, teach catechism to the children, and prepare them for their First Communion.
Once the local school is rebuilt, the children will no longer need to attend the convent classes. In the meantime, the sisters hope they can help the children from falling too far behind in their studies.
“Before the Islamic State invasion, there were five sisters in the convent, while now there are only two of us. Fortunately, we are will soon receive reinforcements,” Sister Ilham said.
In addition to helping fund the convent reconstruction, Aid to the Church in Need is currently helping rebuild 13,000 houses and more than 300 church properties destroyed by the Islamic State in Iraq.
This article was originally published by ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.