By Rowena Orejana –
Safety is a commodity that is scarce in Iraq.
Project 52, a project launched by the Chaldean Catholic community, aims to provide safety to 52 disabled children in Iraq by eventually having them adopted by families in New Zealand.
The project was launched with a gala on November 26 at St Addai church in Papatoetoe.
Sixteen-year-old Rita Araboo walked around the church grounds selling raffle tickets in an effort to raise funds for the care of these children.
“Children, disabled or not, should not be neglected and should always be looked after,” she said. “I want them to be as privileged as I am here so they can have the right support.”
Project 52 is the brainchild of Chaldean Catholic parish priest Fr Douglas Al-Bazi. He served as a priest in Erbil, Iraq before he moved here a few months ago.
“When we gathered the kids, there were 52 disabled children. In our mentality, not all people are happy to have disabled children. That is why when we started, we thought the numbers were low,” he said.
Fr Al-Bazi had been advocating for more help for his people and vowed to continue his advocacy in New Zealand.
“Unfortunately, here in New Zealand, we have limited options to help. We can offer prayers and help but not actually ready to give a safe (place),” he said.
Fr Al-Bazi got the blessing of Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn for the project.
When he spoke to an MP, though, Fr Al-Bazi was not at all encouraged.
“I was told that ‘75 per cent, you are going to fail. We cannot bring those kids here because they are not orphans. You are not going to succeed’,” he related. “But I cannot just stop at this.”
The children’s ages range from two to 16. Some have damage to the brain. Others have eye problems or deafness.
Fr Al-Bazi added one in 25 children born in the war-torn area has autism.
“Why (help) disabled children? If you look at people without disability, they really suffered (in the conflict). How much more the disabled children?,” he explained. “They suffer double.”
Fr Al-Bazi said his dream is to bring them all here.
In the meantime though, the parish is raising funds to help the children and their families.
He said those who want to help particular children can “adopt” them in the sense of sending financial support.
“We can arrange for those who want to help to make contact with the family and the child in Erbil,” he added.
Fr Al-Bazi said the plan was to send Christmas gifts to the children on the first week of December.
At the gala, a room was assigned as a “genocide gallery” where photos of the destruction in Mosul were posted.
Fr Al-Bazi said most of the people from Mosul who sought refuge in Erbil had been living as internally displaced people for the past two years. He said it will take another three years before the place can be made habitable.
Fr Al-Bazi also received recognition from the US Catholic Charities for his efforts at raising awareness to the plight of his people.
“It is my people who deserve the prize,” he said. “For all that they are suffering, no one denied Jesus.”
Those who wish to help can donate to: (account name) Chaldean Community Support Iraq, (account number) 02 0100 0233290 06 (SWIFT code BKNZN22).