Inside a church in Jordan, a displaced Iraqi Christian mother dreams of a
brighter future for her children far from the war-torn country they
were forced to flee.
She is among thousands of Iraqi Christians from the northern town of
Bartalla to have sought refuge in neighbouring Jordan after running for
their lives from jihadists.
"We've lost everything. Our houses have been pillaged and destroyed.
There's nothing left over there to make it worth returning," said Walaa
When the Islamic State group swept across northern Iraq in 2014 they
told Christians to convert, pay tax, leave or die. Tens of thousands
chose to flee.
Baghdad has announced final victory over the extremist group, but
Louis says she will not return to a country where she does not feel
She, her husband and three children -- now aged 16, 15 and eight --
fled Bartalla in August 2014, trekking for hours in the dead of night to
the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Arbil.
They endured months of struggle in Arbil, including sleeping rough in parks or inside churches.
Iraqi forces retook Bartalla from IS earlier this year, but when
Louis returned to her hometown in August she found nothing but a home in
She and her husband decided to head to Jordan, where they filed with
the UN refugee agency for resettlement "in any safe country" to ensure
her children's future.
But as Christmas approaches, Louis said her family has received no financial aid and their money is running out.
"We've spent everything we had," said Louis, who suffers from a heart condition.
"I can't even see a doctor or buy Christmas presents for my children," she said.
For now, her youngest son is among some 200 children aged 6 to 14
attending night classes at the Marka Latin Church in the Jordanian
- 'Right to life' -
They are taught by volunteer Iraqi teachers, and receive books, clothes and meals for free.
The night classes are all in English, the school's head Sanaa Baki
said, as the parents of most Iraqi students have applied for
She hopes the language skills will help the children better settle in foreign schools if these requests are granted.
Some 10,000 Iraqi Christian refugees live in Jordan, according to Father Rifaat Badr, who heads a Catholic research centre.
Many of them dream of new lives in Europe, Canada, Australia or in the United States.
The church's priest, Khalil Jaar, believes education is also key to the children remembering where they come from.
"The saying goes, 'If you want to destroy a people, erase their history and make their children ignorant'," he said.
"We need to work to ensure all these children are given their right to education and to life."
This month, France's ambassador to Jordan, David Bertolotti, visited
the church to announce a 120,000 euro ($140,000) donation for the night
classes to continue until the end of the school year.
Under a large Christmas tree, children with wooden crosses dangling
around their necks sang the Iraqi national anthem at the top of their
Ban Benyamin Yussef, a mother-of-four, was among the parents present.
"After Daesh members plundered, destroyed and burned our home and my
husband's grocery shop, we decided to pack our bags and seek refuge in
Jordan, hoping to start a new life," the 43-year-old said, using an
Arabic acronym for IS.
It was the last leg of a journey fleeing harassment across Iraq.
"When sectarian violence flared in 2006, we received death threats
and fled Baghdad for Mosul", a city in northern Iraq, she said.
Threatened there too, they escaped to a small village north of the city -- until IS arrived in 2014.
But even now that Iraqi forces have claimed victory over the
jihadists, Yussef and her family have no intention of returning to Iraq.
"We can't go back. Our towns have been destroyed. We've lost everything."