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    Posted November 6, 2014 by
    kimpozniak
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    Baltimore, Maryland

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    Iraqi Teen Faces Uncertain Future after Fleeing ISIS

     

    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     kimpozniak with Catholic Relief Services observed Christian refugees from Iraq living in 'unimaginable conditions' in Amman, Jordan. She related the most to 15-year-old Astela Raaed. The refugees she met 'all led lives just like us, and suddenly find themselves in a situation where they have lost everything.'
    - hhanks, CNN iReport producer

    When I met Astela Raeed last week, the 15-year-old from Mosul, Iraq, seemed just like any other teenager: her long hair loosely pulled back into a ponytail that hung over her hooded sweatshirt, concerned about how she looked when I took a selfie of us. I had to take the photo several times before she was somewhat satisfied. She had that shy, slightly insecure smile you see in many girls her age, and her Facebook page displays photos of herself along with those of various celebrities and of course, long chains of comments by her friends on this and that.
    The difference between her and so many teenagers I know -- including myself, it seems too many years ago -- became clear the more we talked. “I cried all night last night because of this mess we’re in,” she told me, that shy smile replaced by an incredibly sad look. Unable to go to school or meet new friends, Astela faces an uncertain and daunting future.
    On August 6, Astela and her older brother were studying for an exam in their house in Mosul when the sound of gunfire and bombs erupted in the distance. To help his children focus, Astela’s father, Dawood Raeed, an English teacher, closed the windows and turned on a generator. The loud, steady hum of the machine drowned out the noise for a while, but the sound of shelling was coming closer. When the Raeeds got word that a young woman and two children in their neighborhood were killed by the fighting, they knew it was time.
    ISIS took control of Mosul earlier this year, forcing Christians and other minorities to either leave or convert to Islam. On August 6, that threat came to Astela’s doorstep. Her family is Christian. “We had no choice,” she told me. “I felt really sad. I was in pain leaving my house.”
    After several weeks of moving from one place to the next, the Raeed’s made their way to Amman, Jordan, where I met them at a Catholic church. They're among 1,200 Christian Iraqis currently living in churches in and around Amman that have opened their doors and hearts in incredible acts of kindness. Catholic Relief Services, the humanitarian organization I work for, and our partner Caritas Jordan, have provided mattresses, blankets, improved sanitation facilities, and other essential items. With only a few weeks left before the start of winter, my colleagues are now scrambling to prepare as many families as possible for a harsh winter throughout the region.
    The Raeed’s current home, the Armenian Catholic Church in Amman, houses 80 people, all with stories similar theirs. They share a small space adjacent to the church and way too few bathroom facilities. Their only privacy is provided by thin, waist-high ply wood walls that divide the room into small spaces. Six members of Astela’s family now occupy a few square feet about the size of an office cubicle. They share three beds between them.
    “I have no privacy,” Astela tells me, and my mind immediately takes me back to my own teenage years, trying to imagine living on top of my parents and my sister. “Everything is difficult. I can’t enjoy being a teenager.”
    What Astela’s parents told me next turned out to be a common refrain I heard from many other Iraqi refugees in Jordan and neighboring Lebanon. “We only made this decision for our kids,” her father explains. “We have no future in Iraq and don’t ever want to go back. What I’m living for now is to see my kids continue their education.”
    We have been seeing gruesome images of the terror imposed by ISIS for months now. What we haven’t seen are the stories of those willing to sacrifice the life that they knew in exchange for religious freedom and the hope for a future. In Iraq, the lives of millions remain in peril as ISIS continues to control key parts of the country. In October, ISIS launched new attacks in northern and central Iraq, displacing thousands more people. Recent reports suggest that insurgents are changing their tactics to avoid coalition airstrikes, reducing their visibility and moving fighters into residential areas. ISIS remains in control of other large areas and cities, including the city of Mosul.
    Leaving the church that day, and saying goodbye to Astela without being able to do more for her, was hard. As our van pulled out of the church compound, I must have turned to wave goodbye at least a dozen times.
    My hope is that there will be a bright future for families who not long ago lived lives just like mine, just like so many of us, with the same hopes and aspirations.
    I might never see Astela again but at least there’s Facebook. I will friend her hoping to find posts from a future life filled with hope and possibilities.

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