Sunday, September 24, 2017

Children’s Program in Iraq Invites Dreams of a Brighter Future

Our Child-Friendly Spaces Program offers children in a displacement camp outside of Mosul a safe place to learn and grow.

In Iraq, dust is a color and the wind is its artist. The dust is swept across the canvas with haphazard strokes, painting the dullest of colors into a region in desperate need of something bright. Layers of dust collect on tent flaps, reminding people that the price of their safety is stagnation.

But in a camp for displaced people just outside of Mosul, among rows of dust-stained tents, is an oasis of inspiration and color. The Samaritan’s Purse Child-Friendly Spaces Program for ages 6-11 offers children the opportunity to play and have fun while they learn Biblical traits such as peace and patience. This is not just a child-friendly space, but a world inspired by the collective imaginations of the 20 children who learn and play in this program every week.

A mother and daughter attend the graduation.

A program leader.

At the completion of the 10-week program, children participate in a graduation ceremony and parents are invited to attend. On graduation day, the children squirmed in bashful excitement and anticipation for the ceremony.

I smiled at the parents as they entered and noticed the sincerity and genuine warmth that accompanied their greetings. Though the children performed, the parents captured my attention.

My eyes settled on the father in the front row whose jolly countenance seemingly doubled his already larger-than-life presence. He had the kind of vivacious smile that started in his eyes, showed all his teeth, and warmed the room. Following his proud gaze revealed the source of his joy—a beautiful daughter with her father’s radiance and her mother’s softness.

A similar tenderness rested in the eyes of other parents. This was a look I better understood after talking with Noor, a mother of two children in the program.

Miriam, Noor, and Yousef

Miriam, Noor, and Yousef

Noor told of the 2 ½ years that she lived with her husband and five children in ISIS-controlled Mosul. During this time, she and her youngest son and daughter were confined to their home.

She paused and her eyes dropped to the children on either side of her. As a woman, she could stay in the home, but as a mother, could she limit the world she offered her son and daughter?

In those years, Noor watched as time dulled their childhood and resentment built in her youngest son, Yousef. She grew wary of his anger and, even in the safety of the displacement camp, struggled to let him leave the tent to play with other children.

Yousef shyly leaned into his mother at the mention of his name, making it difficult to imagine his boyish face hardened with bitterness. Instead, I saw the boy Noor described next.

The boy who returns from the Child-Friendly Space and excitedly shares about kindness, peace, and joy. The boy who loves acting out stories and who solves his problems with patience and self-control.

Children participate in a graduation ceremony at the competition of the 10-week program.

Children participate in a graduation ceremony at the completion of the 10-week program.

“You are doing more than just giving to the children,” Noor said. “You are changing them.”

The next question was for Yousef but his sister, Miriam, piped up to answer. Without hesitation, she offered that Joseph the dreamer was her favorite story from the child-friendly program because “when his brothers did everything bad to him, he was still kind.”

“What do you dream to be when you grow up,” her teacher asked?

“A queen,” she replied.

Let me tell you, Miriam, you are already more than a queen. You are God’s precious daughter. Treasure the story of Joseph in your heart as it is far more than a lesson on kindness; it is a reminder that God does not abandon His children in the midst of hardship.

God has a plan for you beyond the fence of this camp or the fear of ISIS. One day people are going to see you in the distance and say, “Here comes that dreamer!”

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