The Critical Role the Church is Playing in Helping Refugees

by Cecil B Laguardia, in Iraq on October 13, 2015

Karwan Abdayousaf, a 45-year-old employee of St. Joseph Assyrian Church in Koya is worried. “If support for the food needs suddenly stops, they will have nothing,” he says sadly, speaking of the 35 Christian families from Mosul who have been occupying a building previously used for the church’s activities for more than six months now. 

The town of Koya dates back to the 1800s. It is rich with history. An hour’s drive from Erbil, the capital city of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, it is also the hometown of some of the country’s most famous poets, including Haji Qadir Koyi and Malai Gawra and social reformers who contributed to the development of the city. But, the displaced families seeking shelter here rarely notice this historical landscape, nor do they have time to sit and read poetry, their days are spent worrying where the next meal will come from.

Shawki, a 44-year-old father of three worked as a school teacher for eight years. He and his family lived in a five-bedroom house before the most recent conflict erupted. Today, they are squeezed into a 2 by 2 meter room separated by makeshift mattresses, cardboard boxes and broken furniture. 

“I once earned at least $600 (USD) every month. It was not much, but I was able to provide well for my family’s basic needs,” says Shawki. “Now, I am jobless and idle, depending on support,” he says, 

Doniya, 40, affirms Shawki’s pain and frustration. She worked as a teacher for 10 years in a girls’ school and being out of work and dependent on aid is hard for her to adjust to. “It is hard to be idle all day doing nothing with my time. I am used to having a busy schedule with children. And yes, not having an income is a challenge,” she says.

World Vision has been providing support to these and over 30,045 other IDP families (180,270 people) through its Food Vouchers Programme where every family member receives a voucher that they can use to make purchases from 80 accredited supermarkets throughout Erbil Governorate, which Koya District is part of.

The children’s hopes for their future have never dimmed. Shawki’s children, 11-year-old twins John and Joan say they want to be come an engineer and teacher, respectively. Their friend, Afram, 13, who was visiting, also has big dreams. “I want to be a doctor someday,” he says brightly. 

The school-age children go to a nearby government school in Koya three days per week. Afram is thankful of the opportunity to study although he also shared that going to new school in a new place has been difficult. “I do not have friends and nobody knows me,” he says. 

“I missed my friends back in Mosul,” adds Joan. “I miss playing with them. I do not know if I will see them again.”

“Many [children] expresses their desire to go home and regain their old lives,” says Karwan.  “But, they know it is impossible. The world should not forget that they need help. They have nowhere to turn to except to prayer.”

In addition to food vouchers, World Vision has also provided toilet and bath facilities at the church to help ensure proper sanitation and hygiene to prevent incidence of diseases.

Your church can to respond to the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today by hosting a Refugee Sunday.

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