Basma Adwar’s family moved from Baghdad to Zakho, in Iraqi Kurdistan, in 2003, after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime led to a long period of instability in the country. For Christians this marked the beginning of a dark period of persecution, the height of which came in 2014, when hundreds of thousands of Christians were forced to flee from their ancestral homelands in the Nineveh Plains, also finding refuge in Kurdistan.
Basma’s sister went to a public university and became a dentist, but the 25-year-old Basma wanted to study international relations at the prestigious Catholic University in Erbil (CUE), in the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region. Fortunately, this was made possible through a scholarship funded by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
The Pope Francis Scholarships supported by ACN benefactors were planned to begin in September 2021, but were postponed for a few months because of the pandemic. In the first year, 128 students were granted scholarships, which for some included accommodation.
“I am currently in the third stage of my course in international relations”, Basma told ACN during an interview. “Without the scholarship, I would not have been able to attend the CUE”, she adds.
Basma, who is a member of the Chaldean Catholic Church, believes that the CUE is contributing to the integration and peaceful coexistence of the students in Iraq.
At a time when the Christian communities in Iraq and other countries in the Middle East are haemorrhaging members, with many young people leaving in search of a better future in Western countries, she also thinks that initiatives like the Pope Francis Scholarship programme help to keep Christians from leaving. “Because I have a scholarship to study, I can stay in Iraq. I want to stay in Iraq. I want my future to be in Iraq, and I want to help build the future of Iraq”, she tells ACN.
Last June, Basma was also able to express her gratitude directly to Pope Francis, during a meeting of the Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches (ROACO). “I was invited to participate in the ROACO conference in June, representing Iraq, and I had the opportunity to meet Pope Francis. I thanked him for all the help he gave to Iraq, and for the scholarships because the scholarship is in his name.”
The meeting lasted only a few minutes, and Basma says that the Pope listened attentively, and smiled when she mentioned the scholarships. “It was a great moment for me and for all the Christians in Iraq. I had not had the opportunity to see him before, because when he visited Iraq in 2021, we were told that only one member of our family could go and see him, so my father went.”
Basma is grateful to ACN for helping to provide the funding for the scholarship which she has benefitted from, but she says that there are many more students who need this help. When she met Marco Mencaglia, project director for the international Catholic charity, she told him as much. “In Rome, I also met Marco Mencaglia, from ACN, and I thanked him for the grants they provided. I asked him for more scholarships because there are many students who need them, especially in Iraq.”
ACN has committed new support to this project, which means that over the next three years, 70 new students will be able to benefit from the Pope Francis Scholarships and take advantage of the opportunities provided by a top-rate education.
- By Filipe d’Avillez
Featured Image: ROACO Youth Conference, Rome, 16-23 June 2023. Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.