Sister Clara Nas, the prioress of the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena, envisioned a new school for the children of Qaraqosh – now her dream has become a reality!
On August 6, 2014, the city of Qaraqosh fell into the hands of the Islamic State (IS). The city, located on the Nineveh Plains about 25 km outside of Mosul, was once considered the largest Christian city in the country. The Christians living in this region of Iraq were forced to flee their homes. IS cost many people their lives, destroyed property and displaced thousands of people.
The city was liberated by the Iraqi army in 2016. Once the city had been freed, the families began to return. Now, seven years after the invasion, remarkable progress has been made in rebuilding the city.
The Church has been closely involved in this development. An impressive example can be found in the work of the Sisters of the Congregation of Saint Catherine of Siena, an order that has been very active in this land since 1890. The Sisters were among the first to return after the liberation and did not hesitate to begin rebuilding of the community. The return and presence of the religious Sisters in the region encouraged many Christians to come back to their homes and revive the Christian community on the Nineveh Plains.
Faithful to Her Vision, No Matter the Cost!
Sister Clara Nas, the prioress of the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena, had just returned to Qaraqosh in 2016 when she had the idea of building a new secondary school. When she told others about her dream, they thought it would be impossible: the families had just survived the horrors of IS and all the suffering they had caused. The first waves of people were just beginning to return to a city that had completely been destroyed. Many considered the project of building a new secondary school outside the realm of the possible.
However, Sister Clara refused to give up her vision. “It was our goal to offer young people a place of reconciliation and healing after being displaced by IS and living for so many years as refugees,” Sister Clara explained. And so, in 2018, she sought the support that would be needed to tackle the large project of building a new secondary school. The international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and the Federal Chancellery of the Republic of Austria agreed to collaborate.
The news that a new secondary school was going to be built was received with great jubilation by the families living in Qaraqosh! One of the primary concerns of those who had returned, or were planning to return, was in fact, the education of their children.
The current educational system in the area is of very low quality at the moment. There are so many students that the schools work in two shifts, teaching one group early in the morning and the second in the afternoons. Another problem the schools are facing: a lack of teaching material. To make matters more difficult, there is a shortage of teachers, as the government has not allocated a sufficient number of teaching positions to the region to meet its needs, nor does it pay salaries that would ensure teachers earn a living that would support them adequately.
Schools Bringing New Life to the Community!
There is another reason the project met with such great enthusiasm: the religious Sisters are known and highly regarded by the locals for their many years of experience in education. Prior to the invasion of IS, the Sisters ran the Al-Thaira primary school. They continued to carry out their mission of education as refugees in Erbil, teaching the children who had been displaced in temporary schools set up in containers. The primary school in Qaraqosh was reopened in 2017 and now has 427 students.
The secondary school is expected to open its doors on October 1 to 625 students between the ages of 13 and 18. “As Dominican Sisters, we are convinced that education illuminates the mind and opens hearts to the truth. That is why we initiated the project for a new secondary school—in a village where young people urgently need a healthy mental environment,” Sister Clara explained.
The new three-storey school building will help the community in many ways. First, it strengthens the educational system in the region and frees children from the burden of having to attend school in two shifts. Further, a sports field is planned to open for all the young people in the community—including those who are not enrolled at the school.
In addition, the building project offers new employment opportunities for people in the community, hiring locals to undertake the construction. It is estimated that up to 200 engineers, construction workers and skilled workers were involved in the building of the new school. Once completed, it will offer jobs for teachers and other school personnel.
The religious Sisters will have a pastoral worker at the new school, as they did at their primary school, for they know how important a strong source of spiritual support is for their students. The young people can make use of the school chapel, which is open to all, take part in a wide range of religious activities, participate in catechism classes and prepare for their First Holy Communion.
“We are deeply grateful for your show of solidarity. We very much appreciate your moral and financial support, which is helping us to remain in our country,” Sister Clara said to ACN.
ACN is involved in many of the projects that were initiated in the region (Nineveh Plains) to rebuild Baghdida (Qaraqosh) and to provide the help and assistance Christian families need to return to their homes after the invasion of IS. Among other things, the pastoral charity has approved grants for the education of the children living on the Nineveh plains as well as for rebuilding six kindergartens and an orphanage.