Sr. Clara has a dream for the Christian children of Qaraqosh, Iraq. Understanding that education is key to securing the future of the next generation of Iraqi Christians, sr. Clara wanted to establish a secondary school in Qaraqosh. with the support of ACN, a new secondary school is set to open this October for Qaraqosh’s Christian children.

By ACN Staff

Sister Clara Nas is prioress of the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena in Qaraqosh, Iraq. The Assyrian Christian town of Qaraqosh is located in the Nineveh Plain, around 25 km from Mosul. Previously around 70% of the population of Qaraqosh were Syriac Catholics with the remaining 30% being mostly Syriac Orthodox.

Christian women in Qaraqosh in traditional dress during the visit of Pope Francis. (Credit: Aid to the Church in Need)

In more recent decades, the numbers of Chaldean Catholics in Qaraqosh has grown as they have fled to the Christian town to escape persecution elsewhere in Iraq. The people of Qaraqosh, like most Christians in the Nineveh Plain, speak a dialect of Aramaic.

In 2014, ISIS rampaged through much of northern Iraq. The Christians of Qaraqosh fled. In 2016, Qaraqosh was liberated. Slowly the Christians began to return home.

When Sr. Clara returned to Qaraqosh, an idea came to her mind. Although security is still an issue for Christians in Iraq, economic hardship has become the more pressing issue.

As an ethnic, religious, and linguistic minority, the Christians must work extra hard to get jobs and economic opportunities. Education is key. Realising this, Sr. Clara dreamt of building a new secondary school to help educate a new generation of Iraqi Christians who could stay in their ancestral homeland.

Many didn’t take Sr. Clara’s dream seriously. How could they build a new school when the town was still recovering from the occupation by ISIS? Sr. Clara was determined.

She explained her motivation:

“Our goal was to offer young people a place of reconciliation and healing after being displaced by IS and living for so many years as refugees.”

In 2018, she started to look for funding to build a new secondary school. Funding was granted to build Sr. Clara’s new school by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and the Federal Chancellery of the Republic of Austria. This help offered to the Christians of Qaraqosh was gratefully received.

Education standards in the region were not high. There is not only a shortage of school buildings but also of teachers. Children have to go to school in shifts as there is not adequate spaces for all of them at once.

Sr. Clara Nas. (Credit: Aid to the Church in Need)

The religious sisters are highly respected by the local community. They had previously ran school in Qaraqosh prior the invasion of ISIS and had continued educating the Christian children while they were refugees in Erbil and the surrounding areas. In 2017, a primary school was opened in Qaraqosh and now has 427 pupils. A secondary school is expected to open this October for around 625 from the ages of 13 to 18.

Sr. Clara explains the value of education:

“As Dominican sisters, we are convinced that education illuminates the mind and opens the hearts to the truth. That is why we initiated the project for a new secondary school – in a village where young people urgently need a healthy educational environment.”

It is hoped that the new three-storey school building in the future will also have sport facilities. The construction of the school also gave the working aged population in the area much needed employment, with around 200 people being employed as part of the construction of the school. Like the primary school run by the sisters, the new secondary school will naturally have a chaplain. This will help with catechism classes and preparation to receive the Sacraments.

ACN is involved in many projects in the Nineveh Plains to rebuild Qaraqosh and provide the assistance Christian families need to return to their homes after the invasion of IS. Among other things, the pastoral charity has approved grants for the education of the children living in the region as well as for rebuilding six kindergartens and an orphanage.