Then, in the fall and winter of 2017, ISIS was defeated militarily in the Nineveh Plains in the north and its fighters were forced from Iraq. That year the Iraqi Ministry of Culture honored Fr. Faiz as one of the country’s Distinguished Personalities of the Year for his role in supporting human rights and reconciliation work in the country. This work culminated in the expansion of The School of the Redeemer Kindergarten at St. George’s into a new 1-6 grade building, the only interfaith, multi-ethnic school in Baghdad, for which SWIC provided crucially needed funds in 2018.
Meanwhile, IDPs in the north were anxious to return to their homes in places like Qaraqosh (known as Bahkdadi to ethnic Assyrians), the largest Christian city in Iraq. However, the entire city was reduced to rubble by ISIS’s “scorched- earth” campaign. SWIC and Fr. Faiz recognized the immense need to provide water sources where infrastructure had been destroyed. So in 2016-18 SWIC funded 6 water wells that each provide water for 7-9 families, or up to 100 people, as well as water needed to reopen St. Afram’s elementary and high school. These wells provide water to all thirsty people, irrespective of anything. In its small way, even this represents a step towards tolerance and shared human space in community.
Community-rebuilding projects have become the main focus of activist groups in the region. In 2018 SWIC provided funding to rebuild a small family-owned grocery store in Qaraqosh/Bakhdadi. With one of SWIC’s Small Business Redevelopment Grants, this family continues rebuilding and plans to import food from Erbil to replenish the supplies (see Grocery Store video). The vision is to support local farmers with locally grown produce. When the market is profitable, it will not only feed local families returning home, it will be the seed of economic growth within local communities and serve as a model for other redevelopment enterprises.
Along with School of the Redeemer, the most ambitious, and successful project SWIC has participated in is the Family Chicken Farm Initiative in Qaraqosh/Bakhdida. Reigniting the commercial engine of the Nineveh Plains, once the “Breadbasket” of Iraq, holds one of the keys to creating an environment where some of the thousands of Iraqi families, many of them from farming, that still sit idle in refugee camps in Jordan and other countries.
And, of course, another primary building block of sustainable progress is education. In the School of the Redeemer on St. George’s campus near the Green Zone in Baghdad, Father Faiz (now Canon Faiz) has created a model for the future of all of Iraq—a future where tolerance, diversity and a positive sense of national identity and pride can grow and a new Iraq can emerge with real hope for the future. In mid-2020 Fr. Faiz was honored by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II when she appointed him an Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his services to the people of Iraq.
In 2020, SWIC has emerged as a crucial voice to spread awareness globally of the crisis affecting the Iraqi Christians. We have become the primary U.S. Episcopal Church NGO seeking sustainable ways of serving these communities and assuring all of our brothers and sisters in Iraq that they are not forgotten. Thus, SWIC is actively in partnership with and cultivating relationships with Western denominations and churches and other NGOs to help restore their lives.
SWIC is motivated partly by the understanding, gained from our Iraqi friends, that if this crisis if not addressed in the coming decade it well may mean the loss of these historic treasures in the heart of the body of Christ. On every level, religious, political, humanitarian, historical, and economic, the irretrievable loss of these communities would be an intolerable stain up-on our world. We have the chance, now, to help them.