By Jaco Klamer
Briefing for our Donors
SHE WILL NOT say how much it pains her to look back. Yet, when she does so, she manages to speak with an inspiring calmness: “None of us wanted to abandon our place—but as the attacks didn´t stop, we had to save our lives and flee,” reflects Sister Ilham. The 57 year-old Dominican nun was serving in a Mosul church when the rapid advance of ISIS in early June 2014 forced her and her community to flee, with the Sisters taking only what they could carry. Today, Sister Ilham serves the faithful who have recently returned to the Christian city of Telleskuf, on Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, some 12 miles from Mosul.
“In 2014, about 6,000 people had to leave Telleskuf. When I returned to this area, all the houses were abandoned and many of them were destroyed; a lot of buildings have been reduced to rubble. The school and the children’s home have been obliterated; the doors of the convent were forced open and the nuns’ residence was robbed.”
The Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena began work on the restoration of their convent—Our Lady of the Rosary—in Telleskuf last May. “I worked from seven a.m. until seven p.m. to get the convent ready for the children,” recounts Sister Ilham. Care for the children does not only involve a clean, safe space and equipment. It has also to do with the handling of emotions of children and youngsters traumatized by violence and terror. She explains: “Our first priority are the children. They have witnessed chaos and violence, and I can tell that they have become more nervous and more aggressive.”
The Sister reports: “We offer day-care for children who are three, four and five years-old. From eight a.m. until one p.m. we host close to 150 children, aged six to twelve, and from five p.m. to seven p.m. we welcome the children who are 12 and older. We also visit the people of the community at home and we teach the children the catechism: we prepare them for their First Communion. Before the invasion of ISIS, we worked in the convent with five sisters, but now there are just two of us. Luckily, we will receive back-up soon.”
Instead of looking back, Sister Ilham now insists on looking ahead: “I am glad to see people return to their houses and getting on with their lives,” she says smiling; “it is a shame that the government has barely restored the road–they should contribute more to the rebuilding of the villages and cities. However, our biggest concern is the safety in this area.
There is still plenty missing when it comes to restoring the convent and its facilities. Yet, Sister Ilham parts from a visitor with words of consolation in the midst of destruction. She says: “Everyone is trying their best to live with each other harmoniously. We try to help the children by giving them peace: at the convent, we offer them a safe place.”
Aid to the Church in Need has contributed $50,000 to the restoration of the convent of Our Lady of Rosary.