Asia also took part in IOM’s training on peacebuilding and volunteerism. She started an all-female volunteer group of ten, called Nisaa Halimat (Dreaming Women) in 2018 to work on relief activities for displaced persons and orphaned children, later focusing as well on women’s rights and affairs, awareness campaigns and peacebuilding activities in Diyala.
“There are Christians in so many corners of Iraq, and I wondered why Baqubah had none. I was told that there were a few, but that they were marginalized and afraid because of the violence they had been exposed to in Baqubah. No one seemed to know much about them, but there was a church here.”
Asia went to see the church but found out it had been closed since 2006. She came back to the community centre with an idea that would contribute to rebuilding trust and relations between the Christian community and the rest of the city: to rehabilitate and reopen the church.
“I knew that would make the Christian families very happy. The Christian community council in Baqubah loved the idea, particularly because Muslim youth were reaching out and helping to reopen a church in Diyala, a governorate that had gone through its lot of sectarian violence. On top of it, all the volunteers were girls!”
Asia recruited her task force from the female volunteers who attended the community centre as well as others working with different nongovernmental organizations and armed them with brooms and dusters and buckets of water. She also obtained the approval of the local government and security forces to open the doors of the church.
“Those who participated in the campaign were from everywhere in Diyala, across the ethno-religious groups of the governorate. I don’t want to mention any groups by name because at the end of the day we are all Iraqis and all human beings.”
The group started the cleanup in the church on 1 December 2018 at 6 am. The women worked in the dust, sweating, without taking a break. By 11 pm, the cleaning was finished, and the doors of the church opened. In the following weeks, the group also painted the facade of the church, fixed the electricity and water systems, put up new signs and furnished the service hall. And the Christian community held its first mass since 2006, on 1 January 2019.