Christian primary school taken over by the so-called Islamic State re-opens again

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Basma, 11, with a drawing of a map of Iraq with a palm branch, the symbol of peace.A Christian primary school that was taken over by the so-called Islamic state has opened its doors once again as a place of learning for children.

St Joseph’s primary school in Qaraqosh, in northern Iraq, was seized by IS just after it was built in 2014. The building was so new that it had not even welcomed its first pupils. It was occupied when thousands of families were forced to abandon their homes and flee from the town as IS militants took over. St Joseph’s was turned into an IS military base and when the town was eventually liberated, the school was found to have been looted and destroyed, with tunnels dug into the surrounding ground by the militants for underground movement. Open Doors and other organisations have worked with local residents to turn the building back into a Christian primary school. It has now welcomed 130 students back to class, with plans to take in secondary students from next year. Father Ammar Siman, who oversees the school, said: “If you give students good education, they will be the leaders, doctors, engineers of many parts of Iraq, they will be the people who will bring changes for Qaraqosh in future. That is why we need to invest in education.” One child attending the school, Basma, aged 11, said: “My dream is that we have peace in our country, and we collaborate.” Open Doors is inviting supporters to create colourful paper flags to be used as bunting in the school classrooms. Qaraqosh is slowly getting back on its feet after the ISIS occupation. Elsewhere in the town, locals pulled together to rebuild the library after it was partially destroyed by IS militants. Following the liberation of the town, locals found that most of the books had been burnt or stolen but with the help of church youth volunteers, the building was cleaned up and restored, and is now open once again to the public. In addition to providing books, the library hosts exhibitions and seminars, and provides Christian education and other church-related activities. Fr Duraid, of the Syriac Catholic Church in Qaraqosh, which manages the library, said: “It rose from the black ruins and demolition debris to a cultural centre. We dream that it will be a space where intellectuals, students, authors, poets and other readers from our village can meet or do research.”