Kids have returned to school and that means many things to many people, but to the TEACH arm of Help Iraq it means facing incalculable challenges all year long.
In 2014 ISIS forced more than 150,000 Christians to flee their homes in Mosul and the Nineveh plains, while thousands more were killed. Now not only is the threat of genocide staring Chaldean Christians in Iraq in the face as they fight to survive in camps without personal and basic hygiene items, their children have lost a chance for education.
Families are living in makeshift tents, abandoned buildings, churches and caravans and many of their children have not attended school in years. This is what Help Iraq’s TEACH is trying to fix.
TEACH (Teachers Educating and Creating Hope) is a volunteer group consisting of Chaldean educators and volunteers who assist displaced Iraqi Christians and other minorities with educational, humanitarian and various other needs.
The situation is close to the hearts of Chaldeans in metro Detroit and most of the help comes from that community. According to the Chaldean Diocese, about 125,000 Chaldeans live in metro Detroit – the majority of all those living in the US. More than 95 percent of them can trace their origin to two towns in northern Iraq, Telkaif and Alquosh.
The nonprofit Help Iraq organization was founded by the St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Detroit and Adopt a Refugee Family Program.
There are 30 members in the TEACH wing of Help Iraq. Many are teachers themselves and understand the unique problems the organization faces. Unfortunately, they all have full-time jobs, which makes travel abroad to get down to the nitty-gritty on a more direct level, difficult.
“Every child, regardless of their circumstance has the right to an education,” says TEACH Chair Margaret Shamoun.
Just the act of finding a teacher is a struggle. TEACH starts looking in the camps and other settlements first. It also hopes to find unemployed teachers in the US willing to come to Iraq and teach the children. It is taking applications for those interested at Chaldeanteach@gmail.com.
With many of these children in camps and other locations and on the run from ISIS, teaching is no easy task. It is made even harder because their parents have to struggle just to provide the basics for their children.
As TEACH representatives ask around in the camps to try to find eligible teachers they ask three questions:
- Are you a certified teacher?
- What are your qualifications?
- How current is your certification?
Rafed Yaldo, co-founder of Help Iraq and a community activist, has travelled to Iraq numerous times to assess the situation and aid the refugees. Each time he has gathered information, done what he could, and returned with a progress report and news of what still needs to be accomplished.
Unfortunately, this does not turn up as many options as Help Iraq hoped. So, TEACH tries to find alternative solutions to fill in the gap.
One of these options is to use the internet to teach, but that creates its own complications. While it would ideally provide a large number of kids with a chance to learn, spotty internet connections and limited access make it difficult. While a pilot program has been developed, many of the camps have at most one computer for everyone, which limits the number of the students who can be helped.
In addition, lessons coming from the US have to be translated into Arabic. The translation is done by Father Fadi Philip, pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chaldean Catholic Church in Warren. The lesson plan focuses on the basic fundamentals such as basic math, science, literacy, and so on.
TEACH also plans to build a school for the displaced Chaldean Christians children in Jordan. The area is called “Markas Al-Shabab,” which translates to youth camp.
Despite what the name may indicate, TEACH’s goals do not end with a syllabus, people to teach, and somewhere to do it. It also provides school supplies as well as items for use beyond the classroom such as desperately needed food and basic hygiene materials.
A strong supporter has been the clergy, both here and abroad.
In Iraq Father Douglas Bazi has been a major force for education for refugees. He stayed in that country to help endangered Christians even after being captured by ISIS, tortured and had his teeth broken. A recent documentary, Marked: The Untold Story of the Iraqi Christians, focuses on his struggle and the horrific persecution of Chaldean and Assyrian Christians in Iraq.
One major problem in the clergy department has been recent turn over within the Chaldean Patriarchate in Iraq. Much of the local work was backed and spearheaded by the previous bishop. While his replacement is still interested, there is a lot of catch-up work and engagement needed.
The announcement of genocide by the US this past March brought needed attention to the cause. All of Help Iraq has been working hard for those affected long before the announcement and welcomes the increased support. However, there is still much to do.
Help Iraq mission’s is to help this frequently forgotten group by providing basic daily human needs such as food, shelter, clothing and other necessities. For the children a huge necessity is education. Without it their future is bleak.