Although Iraqi forces recaptured Qaraqosh, about nine miles from the edge of Mosul, from the Islamic State last October, it took many months before Christians felt comfortable enough to return, and their numbers are not huge. So far, 200 houses have been rebuilt in Qaraqosh, with another 111 on the way. Qaraqosh once had 50,000 people.
AVSI sees education as a type of “reset button” for communities that have been displaced. The Italian-based foundation works in Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, as well as more than two dozen other countries.“It’s very important for these children to have places created where they feel comfortable,” Conte said.
“We are rebuilding a preschool/kindergarten in Qaraqosh for this very reason, so the children can feel safe and the adults will feel secure while they reconstruct their homes and organize their lives once again,” she said, noting the school should open in September for about 300 children.
AVSI has worked on educational projects in Iraq starting after the First Gulf War in 1991. More recently, it has aided Iraqis displaced by Islamic State with a variety of initiatives, including the Catholic University of Irbil and the Baby Jesus House kindergarten in Irbil, managed by the Dominican Sisters.
So far, 200 houses have been rebuilt in Qaraqosh, with another 111 on the way. Silvestri said 1,400 houses will be reconstructed, but 6,400 need rehabilitation.
Aid officials believe the camps for internally displaced Iraqis will be closed by the end of the year. The move will press Christians and other displaced minorities to return to Qaraqosh and other villages liberated from the Islamic State.
Meanwhile, the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services is providing cash assistance to see homes rehabilitated for Christians and Yezidis in Bashiqa, another Nineveh town.
“The church is dealing with reconstruction in Qaraqosh and Bartella, but we are focusing on needs of youth such as livelihood skills, psycho-social trauma counseling, women’s support, and are looking at other components complementing the housing construction,” Hani El-Mahdi, CRS Iraq country representative, told CNS via Skype from Baghdad. He said CRS and Caritas Iraq, both members of the larger Caritas network, were working together.
“These people have experienced enormous stress. Most have lost their livelihoods, and they need to re-establish themselves and their lives,” El-Mahdi said after a meeting with Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako in the Iraqi capital.
El-Mahdi said internally displaced people continue to stream in to Baghdad from Mosul, Anbar province, and other areas where fighting is still ongoing.
CRS is also “aiding the displaced stranded in camps around Mosul providing food, water, and hygiene kits to help people stay alive in the brutal summer heat,” he added.
Fans and material to provide shade outside of tents are provided, El-Mahdi said, as children and the elderly try to cope with sweltering temperatures inside the tents and heat outside topping 120° Fahrenheit.