By Maria Lozano
Briefing for our Donors
IT IS A LARGE warehouse with white and grey walls. Dozens of boxes are piled up on the floor. It might be a somewhat gloomy-looking building, but in fact it is a warehouse of dreams! Beneath the concrete beams and among the wooden pallets, dozens of pairs of hands are working industriously and happy faces are smiling brightly. In the last few days, volunteers from the Chaldean Catholic parish of Erbil in Iraq have become Santa’s little helpers, right here in the warehouse in Ankawa, a suburb of Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan.
Christmas is coming, and the children of Iraq’s Nineveh Plains—like children all over the world—are looking forward with excitement and great expectations to these very special days. For many of them this Christmas will be different: it will be the first Christmas they get to celebrate in their own homes. They had to spend the past three Christmases essentially homeless, as refugees in their own country after ISIS had driven their families from the Nineveh Plains in the summer of 2014.
Just like the Child Jesus himself—who was born in a stable and had no place to call his home—the children of the Christian villages and towns of Nineveh Plains spent the last three Christmas feasts in refugee camps or in other temporary accommodations rented with support from the local Chaldean Church.
After immense effort on their part and thanks to the financial support of friends and benefactors from all over the world, more than 6300 families have now been able to return to the various Christian towns and villages on the Nineveh Plains. Many other families are still waiting for their opportunity to go home, however.
This Christmas, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is committed to ensuring that the Iraqi children from the Nineveh plains—those who have returned to their homes there, as well as those still waiting to be able to do so—will not be without Christmas presents. Thus, the warehouse in Ankawa has been transformed into a version of “Santa’s workshop,” where the Chaldean Daughters of Mary and two dozen volunteers are working very hard to wrap 15,000 Christmas parcels.
In their Christmas wish lists and letters to Santa, these children often say that their first wish is to have a stable place where they can live in peace. A second wish is to be able to continue attending school, and their third wish is have a place where they can play. Wishes like these don’t easily come through, but there is no doubt that the children will also be absolutely delighted with these “material gifts which carry with them the Good News of the presence of God among us; they are stamped with the love of God the Father,” as Sister Ni’am, the project’s coordinator, puts it.
The parcels will include, she says, “a parka—something very necessary, because winter in this part of Iraq can be very cold—plus chocolates and, in order not to overlook the religious meaning of this feast, a Bible or another spiritual book, depending on the age of the child.”
“It will be a joyful and painful celebration at the same time: joyful because of their return to their birthplaces and houses; and painful because of the state of the villages: destroyed, burned and looted houses; robbed, burned and destroyed churches; neglected streets, almost non-existent social services, and friends who have left the country,” Sister Ni’am explains.
The cost of each gift parcel is $24, putting the total cost of the project at $360,000. ACN is also funding a Christmas parcel project for children in Aleppo, as well as another for the children of Syrian refugee families in Armenia.