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Against all odds

Christmas gifts: Sisters preparing Christmas parcels in Ankawa for 15,000 Christian refugee children; and (below) A young girl worshipping during Christmas Mass in Iraq. Photos: Aid to the Church in Need

Christmas gifts: Sisters preparing Christmas parcels in Ankawa for 15,000 Christian refugee children; and (below) A young girl worshipping during Christmas Mass in Iraq. Photos: Aid to the Church in Need

By Oliver Maksan of ACN

THE nuns and their helpers work tirelessly, opening cardboard boxes that are stacked, head high, all around them.

They take out items of clothing, the plastic packaging rustling loudly.

Piles of clothing lie around them on the floor.

Together with the other sisters and volunteers, Sr Angela, of the Chaldean order of the Daughters of Mary, is preparing parcels for Christian children who were to celebrate Christmas exiled from their homes. Preparations extended for weeks, which was aimed at children aged 2-12.

“The children have an extremely traumatic year behind them. In the summer they were forced to flee from ISIS and ended up as refugees,” one of the younger sisters, who was also forced to flee, said. “We want to bring back a little joy into their lives and so we are putting together a Christmas parcel for each of them.

“We had an orphanage in Karamles. Last August we had to flee for our lives, in the middle of the night – eight of us crammed together into a small car.

“We were terrified.”

The sisters were preparing no fewer than 15,000 Christmas parcels.

They were destined above all for the Christian refugee children from Mosul and the region of the Nineveh Plain, to brighten up their Christmas.

Through their generosity and prayers, donors have answered the call of Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako that the Christians chased out of northern Iraq be given “signs that they are not alone”.

Often it is the children above all who are hardest-hit by the trauma of flight and expulsion, as Chaldean Father Douglas Bazi knows all too well.

He runs the Mar Elia Centre in Ankawa, a mainly Christian suburb of Erbil, where since August thousands of people from the region of the Niniveh Plain have sought refuge and are living in tents.

“They arrived here with us, utterly devastated. Many of them have suffered nightmares,” he said. “Right at the beginning we gave out some toys, because we wanted to make the children happy.

“For they had absolutely nothing. But afterwards a colleague came running, quite shaken, and told me that the children had destroyed all the toys.

“Everyone wanted something for himself and thought he was being left out. As a result it all ended in chaos.

“It made us realise just what fear and insecurity the children were suffering and just how much aggression there was within them.

“Since then things have changed greatly. Thank God, they have become much calmer.”

Hanna is the mother of four children; the youngest of them is just six months old. A Syriac Catholic, she fled together with her husband and children in August, abandoning her home in the town of Qaraqosh.

“We have nothing left; we left everything behind us there,” she said.

Hanna said in the Christian villages on the Nineveh Plain, Christmas had traditionally been a great feast.

“We used to fast on Christmas Eve. And so the joy of our Christmas meal was always all the greater for it,” she said. “We womenfolk prepared special meals and sweets. But this year we couldn’t do that. We had no ingredients and, to be honest, we no longer had the heart for it.”

Hanna’s 10-year-old daughter Tamara had just one wish above everything.

“My biggest wish this Christmas is that I can one day go back home and play together with my friends again,” she said. “I want to go home. That is the most important thing of all.”

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