Father Jacob’s nursery school

12 October 2015, 10:41

A peaceful street in the Christian area of Ankara in Erbil, capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan region (KRG). A row of identical townhouses: two floors and a small gated yard. A line of women forms by a van parked at the corner, selling fruit and vegetables.  A normal daytime scene you might think. Apart from the sound of children.

You would never know that one of these little houses is actually a kindergarten. Makeshift, but decorated with great care: rooms that would otherwise have been used as a living room, kitchen and bedrooms have been furnished with rows of little desks, and there is even a playroom.

Colourful rugs, toys, balls and a tiny slide.  This is the nursery school created by Father Yacob, Prior of the Mar Matti Orthodox Monastery in Bartella, a town just a few kilometres outside Mosul. Like the children he looks after and thousands of other people, he was forced to flee to Erbil when Daesh advanced in the summer of 2014. They were all welcomed, despite the lack of necessary infrastructure.

There was no assistance or services for families with young children who needed to go to school. It was impossible to find a place for all of them. And so, Father Jacob looked for a solution.

He found it by using his own money to rent a little house in this area. Then he started working on it, day after day, to turn it into a nursery school with 5 classrooms for 150 children aged between 3 and 5.

“1,800 Christian orthodox families came here at the same time as me, just from Bartella,” says the prior. “They settled in with relations and acquaintances, but rents were very high. So there was no way they could pay school fees too. We had to do something,” he explains, recalling the origins of this little home-made nursery school, supported by the community from the very start. “We can carry on thanks to donations and fund-raising events. So that’s we managed to create our own nurses school. Now we just have to solve the transport problem: we need a school bus, even just a small one, so we can pick up the children and take them home after school. But it is too expensive.”

Father Jacob has a kind smile and the air of somebody who has been through a lot and will never give up. A reference point for this community which has lost everything, as he walks around the classrooms the children greet him with smiles and renditions of the songs they have learned. “There is no specialised staff here, just kind-hearted teachers who want to help these children, the first victims of the trauma we have all been through,” he adds. “The children frequently ask when they can return home but, to be honest, we don’t know how to answer.”

In 2014, we organised various psycho-social initiatives for Father Yacob’s children, as part of our Child Support Programme. Thanks to special fund-raising organised as part of the 2015 Christmas Campaign, we managed to buy generators and air conditioners, to ensure that the classrooms are warm in winter and cool in summer when temperatures can easily get up to 50 degrees in the summer.

But there is still a lot of work and we are still completely committed. We will continue to support Father Jacob’s nursery school: the next step is to buy schoolhouses to collect the children and take them home again, to make it easy for them to attend.