“In God we trust” is such a common phrase in America that we often hear or say it without really giving a second thought. For Christians in Iraq, it is still a very palpable and real sentiment that they live out each and every single day.
In the small town of Karamles, Iraq, it’s a phrase they cling to, having faith that God will protect them from Islamic fundamentalists.
Karamles used to be a thriving Chaldean Catholic town, but if you visited today you would see no evidence of the life that was once there. Devastated by ISIS, the town is trying to rebuild to bring back the vibrancy that once was the village.
After years of war being raged against them by ISIS, families are starting to move back into their Karamles homes. Knights of Columbus, the worlds largest Catholic fraternal organization is helping families relocate back into their homes. So far around 320 families have been able to move back to Karamles, and have started working to jumpstart what they once knew.
Knights of Columbus has helped to restore 354 homes that were burned down, destroyed, or ransacked by ISIS since their occupation in August 2014. Over 277 homes were partially destroyed and 70 were burned, but there’s progress beginning to take root.
In total, 89 homes were completely destroyed. The process to rebuild is slow because the cost for each can reach $60,000.
Not only were homes destroyed in Karamles, but churches were too. The local covenant was hit by an aerial strike by the Iraqi government when they were trying to drive ISIS out of the area. Where there used to be a three-story covenant, there is now a gaping hole in the ground.
Father Tabet Yousif, a Chaldean priest, stated that the people of Karamles are “very happy to have done so because their identity is in this town.”
Yousif is heading up the reconstruction committee and has been focused on rebuilding since ISIS was driven out in October 2017.
Knights of Columbus is looking for an immediate donation of $20,000 which would help them restore a home for two teachers who are needed to teach at a primary school that was recently restored,
The top priorities for rebuilding are as follows:
- “Restore the Karamles Secondary School for Girls.
- Build a park for children to play in.
- Finish restoration of the Church of St. Mar Addai, because the one they use now is too small.
- Complete the historic Santa Barbara Church, located at a hill overlooking the town. Because of its strategic location, the church that dates to the seventh century was used by ISIS as a fort for snipers, and several tunnels were built communicating with the town as well as the top of the hill, from where snipers would kill anyone trying to get close.”
Yousif is thinking bigger than simply rebuilding a few homes. He wants to completely restore the town back to its original glory and hopes to open a university, a playground, a meeting center, as well as create a farming area to help the young locals.
Although Yousif is a dreamer, his efforts are already showing. They have successfully built a factory that will employ lots of locals. The project was funded by a businessman who was born in Kamales but has lived in Jordan since growing up.
Many have also successfully moved back to the area and have opened up small businesses which are already growing the local economy.
Ghaninm Shaba Hanna moved back to their area in February when his house was finished reconstruction. He moved back with his wife Ator Elya Sulaiman and their 20-year old son Karam.
Before ISIS moved in Hanna was a driver and ran a mini-store. When ISIS took over, the three were forced to flee the town and move three hours away to Erbil, the city of refuge for most persecuted Iraqis.
Sadly after they fled to Erbil, Hanna’s mother passed away there.
“My home was charcoal when we came back,” he said. “The shock of seeing it put me in the hospital for three days. I couldn’t believe what they had done.”
The house still stood, but the entire home was ruined and blackened by a fire that had swept through. There are holes in the walls from a nearby bomb that went off, destroying their neighbor’s house completely.
“This is my place, where my roots are,” Shaba said. He also added that he didn’t “doubt for a second” that he would return to Karamles when ISIS was eradicated.
Because of the war, his son, Karam, was never able to finish high school. These days he helps his father run the family mini-store and is happy he is home,
“I’m happy here … My friends are all already back here too,” Karam stated.
Hanna stated that “not afraid” of what could happen in the future. His own dad fought in the Iraqi army during the eight-year war with Iran.
Although Kamarles is safe now, the largest city in the region, Mosul, is still not safe enough for Christians to return to. Many don’t know what to do, as they want to return home, but they don’t believe it’s safe enough. That is why the Nineveh plains have become a home for Christians.
The United States has promised Iraq that they will by-pass large NGO’s like the United Nations in order to donate money, but have yet to fulfill that promise.
Even though Iraq has yet to receive funds, citizens in towns like Kamarles are pulling together to solve the problem themselves. Yousif already has a team of 50 people that includes people of all backgrounds, coming together to rebuild the city.
Local churches are also stepping forward to help jump-start the rebuilding.
“If people decide to come back home and nothing has changed from when they left, they will leave Iraq,” Yousif said. “And we can’t afford for this to happen.”
Many are actively trying to return to their hometowns, including many Christian families. Dr. Emad Al-Dalakta, who is an engineer, went to the United Kingdom in 2009 and stayed until 2012. While in the UK, Al-Dalakta received his doctorate in communication networks in Newcastle. His family was from Batalla, a neighboring town to Kamalres, who has received money and resources from the UN to help rebuild.
He has three children, one 22 who is studying in Lebanon who wants to become a doctor, and two younger girls ages and 4. The two younger girls were born after his wife underwent surgery in England.
“The doctor said the chances of us having a baby would be 10 percent,” Al-Dalakta said. “But I put my cross in his hands and gave him the go-ahead. God rewarded our trust.”
“Some people asked me why I didn’t go back to England after ISIS made us flee,” he stated. “Well, I couldn’t just leave my country and expect foreigners to fix it. It’s my country, and even if we need some help kickstarting the reconstruction, it’s our duty to be involved.”
Al-Dalakta is also a teacher at a university in Aleppo, where most of his colleagues are devout Muslims. When asked if he’s afraid to go to this city, he says no.
“No. I’m not afraid. In God we trust, right?”