For Iraqi Christian former athlete, sports are essential part of education

FORMER ATHLETE and teacher Issa Habib Ibrahim Atallah was born in Qaraqosh, on Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, in 1940. He finished primary school at Al-Hamdania Second School, then attended the Middle School for boys in Mosul. In 1959, after his graduation from an educational training program, he was hired as a teacher at Tahrawa Primary School in Qaraqosh. He became the school’s principal and served in that capacity for 37 years. A Syriac-Catholic, he fled his town in 2014 when ISIS swept through the region and recently returned to Qaraqosh. He spoke with Aid to the Church in Need:

In the Middle East, Christians are under siege, including in Iraq, where many Christians are still uprooted from their homes on the Nineveh Plains; Aid to the Church in Need is coming to their aid.
Issa Habib Atallah

“When I was a student, I was known for my agility, speed, and mastery of tasks, so I participated in sporting events, including the annual sports review. The most influential person in my career was Dr. Zia Al-Tulabi, who was a teacher of sports education in Qaraqosh. His work has improved athletic performance across the board, but especially in basketball.

“I would like to comment on sports clubs and teams in schools. First, sports in schools are currently neglected, despite the availability of specialized teachers and physical education requirements. Administrators have disregarded the usefulness and importance of sports.

“Second, I must thank everyone at the Qaraqosh Sports Club—the club president, the administrative staff, and the coaches—for their support of young boys and girls, and for their distinguished status, which reflects well on Qaraqosh and Iraq as a whole.

“We must prioritize sports education, through which the citizen is cultivated, and sports clubs, which employ graduates of the College of Physical Education. I am satisfied with the progress of sports in Qaraqosh; the presence of clubs and popular teams points toward a bright future.

“Although my career is over, I still visit students from time to time. I must not let these young people lose their faith in God; they must always remember that God is everything—with His grace and blessing, life continues.

“As long as we have faith, there is no need to worry or fear. Whenever we encounter disaster, we grow closer to God, so we should never despair. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you and to share what is inside of me.”

Aid to the Church in Need played a major role in the resettlement of 40,000 Christians on the Nineveh Plains.

—Ragheb Elias Karash