Last summer, in a video message to Israeli and Palestinian youth gathered in Jerusalem, Pope Francis said: “We all have meaning. We all have meaning in life. None of us is a ‘no.’ We all are a ‘yes,’” he said, adding that adults must pay special attention to hopes and dreams of children and youth; they much “listen to the young and create a context of hope so that those dreams can grow and be shared.” In this interview with international papal charity Aid to the Church in Need, a young girl from the Nineveh Plains, Iraq, reveals a glimpse of her dream.
On Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, a ten-year-old girl dares to dream again
By Ragheb Elias Karash
TEN-YEAR-OLD Helda Khalid Jacob Hindi, a fifth-grader, is not at a loss for words. She is passionate about her life, her future and that of her loved ones. Helda and her family—mom, dad and a younger brother—recently moved back to Qaraqosh on Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, after spending three years in exile in Kurdistan. She remembers vividly the night of Aug. 6, 2014, when ISIS overran her town and Christian families had to flee overnight.
She says: “Alarm bells rang out in our streets—we had to escape the living hell of violence and terrorism. I went along, crying, with no hope of ever returning to my town, my school; with no hope of ever seeing my friends again. We had no idea how long we would be displaced from our beloved city. The days passed and we lived in torment and tragedy until we got used to it.”
Eventually, a new school was built for displaced children and Helda and her family began a new life. She remembers: “I was sad, clinging to hope of returning to my old school; but I made new friends. And today, by God’s grace, we have returned to our town and I am back in my old school among my old friends.”
Life in exile has been hard, perhaps particularly for a proud girl like Helda, who says: “we felt humiliated when we were receiving humanitarian aid, because we didn’t think that the day would come when we would become like beggars, oppressed people, with no power or strength.
“We had only God and we never stopped believing in his power and his mercy for all those hurting in Iraq and around the world. Whenever we approach him in prayer and faith, we feel joy and confidence without end. My family, friends, and relatives never felt that God was far away from us. As far as I can see into the past, God has been with me always. God is with me everywhere and I make sure to always keep nearby some pictures of Jesus Christ and a Bible.”
Helda proclaims she has her own ideas about her country. She explains: “sometimes, I want to stay in Iraq because it is my home, my beloved country. Sometimes, I want to leave, especially when I see photographs and videos of terrorism striking innocent civilians. My heart cannot bear those horrifying scenes, but when I feel scared, I ask God to save me.
“Frankly I’m not really sure about my future here in Iraq. I would want to go abroad with my family if we have to continue suffering war and persecution; how long it will take for us to finally be safe and secure? My message to the West is to do as much as possible to support Christians in Iraq because they are close to extinction. Help us. Have compassion, and you will be rewarded by the one who is in heaven.
“Stop oppressing poor people. We want stability and peace. Let’s work together and pray together for peace and love—for all of us.”
Helda insists: “I have a beautiful dream in life. My hobbies are painting, music, singing, and I like acting a lot, but my ambition is—with the help of God—to become a dentist, to serve my community and my country, wherever I may end up living.” She adds, however: “I do not know where to start because things are still so unsettled. What will be next for us? It’s so hard to tell right now…”