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24 May May 2017 1551 24 May 2017

A kindergarten in Erbil, Iraq. Photoreportage by Stefano Melgrati

Italian photographer Stefano Melgrati visited the Baby Jesus House, a kindergarten in Erbil, Iraq, supported by AVSI in order to help young displaced children in the area. The following article and photos are the result of his encounter with children and staff.

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Text and picture by Stefano Melgrati

Background

In 2014, AVSI helped a group of Dominican sisters to open a kindergarten in Ozal City, The Baby Jesus House, which receives daily 150 children of ages between 3 and 6.
1,200 families live in this community: more than 900 are Christians, while some are Yazidis and others are Muslims. All of them fled from ISIS violence in other parts of Iraq. The kindergarten, as of today counts 7 classrooms with some 20 children each. Every classroom has two teachers, who themselves also had to flee when their own villages were attacked by ISIS.

The visit

Imagine a stubborn colorful little flower springing up in dry dust and you'll get an accurate picture of this place. Amid countless difficulties and lack of means, the people involved in this project have managed an island of refreshing normality where children are still granted the right to be children. An amazing feat, if you ask me.

The kindergarten, initially set up inside one simple house, has later expanded across the road to another house of similar size and shape. Here, the 150 children take turns to share a small playground, sheltered from the beating sun, that also serves as canteen.

In a whirlwind of made-up songs and laughter the kids flood the canteen in waves, one group after another, sitting neatly at their place at the table, as they grab their snacks and look at the camera with cheeky curiosity. It's a fun time and very soon the genuine smiles of those tiny guys soak anyone in the room with a priceless sense of joy.

After lunch, they all go back to their respective classroom where they'll spend time drawing, singing and dancing, but also learning the basics of writing, reading and counting that they'll need in a year or two, when they will turn 6 and be ready for school.

If you go around the building, visiting class after class, the teachers will ask the kids to perform their best songs for the unexpected audience and, boy, you're probably going to need jaw surgery after so much laughing and smiling. There seem to be a point on which all kids worldwide agree: the louder the singing, the better the performance. The aftermath? Cramps to every single face muscle. Well worth it.

The children

At the Baby Jesus House the biggest reward is, by far, found in the radiant smiles of its guests. They might still not grasp many things that are going on around them, but they most certainly understand one, and they can get it crisp and clear: they are loved.

The team

Many people contribute to the success of this project: nuns, teachers, social workers, and volunteers dedicate their time and energy to make this tiny miracle happen day after day.