When someone asks me about practical peacebuilding and interfaith work in Iraq, I think of Kid’s House Kindergarten, a preschool run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Ankawa, Iraq.
The school, which MCC has supported since 2009, provides a safe and structured place for students whose lives have been disrupted by war, with a student body interacting as friends and not as Christians or Muslims.
Throughout the increasing sectarian tensions in Iraq, Kid’s House Kindergarten retained its commitment to providing high-quality preschool education that seeks to identify and strengthen the unique talent and capacity of each individual child, regardless of religious background or economic situation.
The school’s principal, Sister Azhar, came to visit us a few days before Christmas, in December 2016.
This is not uncommon. She often checks in on us to see how we are doing, to give an invitation to an upcoming event or to bring a gift.
MCC photo/Silas Crews
After a normal visit over tea, she paused, then began to explain that Kid’s House received a long-term funding commitment from an agency that is enough to cover their needs.
“Kid’s House is in a good situation now,” she said. “Every morning, I drive by the men who are waiting on the street for work. We don’t need this money. It’s too much for us. MCC should use it for people who need it more, now.”
She handed me an envelope with the year’s unused funds in cash. “Please count it to make sure it’s all there.”
My eyes were welling up in tears. I wasn’t sure if there was some unspoken reason – perhaps MCC’s requirements for financial reporting were too strict, perhaps I hadn’t done as well as my predecessors in strengthening this relationship – that was prompting this unexpected act.
We don’t need this money. It’s too much for us. MCC should use it for people who need it more, now.”
Sister Azhar reassured me, “We don’t need the money to be friends. There is no problem between MCC and Kid’s House.”
She went on to explain that the intent of the project begun in 2009 was never for continuous support – “we should not become dependent” – and that MCC should develop a relationship with a new organization that was providing for people who needed it more.
As she spoke, I was convicted – her actions were that of Christ.
I was viewing it from the perspective of a terminated project instead of a successful relationship and fruitful action, her selfless generosity and caring spilling over and blessing more people.
This project was ending not as a failure but as the greatest of successes.
Kaitlin Heatwole, now of Durham, North Carolina, served as MCC’s Iraq program coordinator from 2014 through 2017.
Update: Returned funding a 'miracle' for Syrian partner
MCC’s representatives for Lebanon and Syria were able to offer the funding that Sister Azhar had returned to Al Mina Workshop, a project for people with developmental and physical disabilities that MCC has been supporting since 1998.
Photo courtesy of Al Mina Workshop
The project, which is in Damascus, Syria, had managed to stay open throughout the war and bus students in despite the checkpoints. But with the war, costs have gone up for everything and program staff struggle to afford all they need to operate.
When MCC representatives for Syria and Lebanon called the director of this project to say additional funds were available, she told them, “Our generator just failed, it’s gone. We need to get a brand new generator.”
The amount of money Kid’s House had returned covered the cost of the generator almost exactly, with a bit left to help support teachers at the facility.
In the words of Doug and Naomi Enns, MCC representatives for Syria and Lebanon, “For us and for Al Mina, it was a miracle. When we talked to them, it was February. They had had no heat for almost a month after the generator broke and were trying to figure out how to buy a new one with no funds.”
In Iraq, Kid’s House continues to reach out to displaced families, and Sister Azhar’s relationship with MCC and her visits continued after the project ended.
MCC photo/Kaitlin Heatwole