Father Douglas Bazi of Iraq was once kidnapped by Islamists. They used a hammer to break his teeth, his knees and his back. The torment only ended when his Chaldean Christian church paid a ransom to win his release. But he was forced to spend a year in bed, recovering from his injuries.
He is now working in a secure part of Iraq, in Ankawa, a Christian suburb of Erbil, which is the capital of Kurdistan. Though just 50 miles from ISIS-controlled Mosul, the region is well protected and ISIS is not deemed a threat.
He is in charge of a small church with a large garden. After the trials of his past he should now be at peace. But he is not.
“My people are still struggling,” he told me in a Skype interview. “I do not find peace.”
In fact, the sprawling church garden has become home to 120 caravans, most of them occupied by desperate refugees who were forced to flee when ISIS launched its campaign of subjugation and genocide against Christian towns. (Though when I refer to them as refugees Father Douglas gently tells me, “I always call them my relatives, never refugees.”)
It is among the caravans that he has launched a new school, staffed by volunteers and aimed at giving education – and hope - to some 200 youngsters, and to their parents as well.
Several caravans are classrooms. One is a computer lab. There is also a library. He wanted to take the children to the cinema, but it was expensive. So he was able to acquire a large television set, and now another of the caravans is a cinema.
“I want to give the children a future,” he said. “I want them to be creative. We must not transfer our hatreds to them.”
His programs seem to be working. Youngsters who arrive angry and aggressive have become happy, enthusiastic learners. Their parents – often just as angry – have found a sense of community. Some have refused to leave the caravans when given the chance to be resettled in apartments.
The students learn English, among other subjects, and Father Bazi has a request.
“I need books,” he told me. “Especially picture books for the younger children, but also books suitable for older children and adults.” Rather than novels he would prefer collections of short stories, as well as non-fiction titles with lots of illustrations.
If you feel you have suitable books that you could donate please email Father Douglas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you are feeling especially adventurous, he also needs English teachers for two or three weeks this summer.