By Lisa Cipriano
Most everyone with ancestral roots outside of the United States feels some sort of a connection to his or her homeland. Some go back to visit. Others, go back to help.
The Shlama Foundation was created to do just that in the ISIS ravaged ancient city of Nineveh in northern Iraq.
After the invasion of ISIS in 2014, the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac people of Nineveh were driven out of their ancestral homeland. Nearly 13,000 homes, hundreds of churches and close to 150 public properties were destroyed.
The word Shlama means peace in Aramaic and that’s exactly what the foundation is tirelessly focused on restoring to the region since the invasion, initially, by providing the diaspora much needed emergency humanitarian aid in terms of food and immediate shelter.
Now, its goal is to rebuild the homeland and preserve the culture of the nearly 200,000 people displaced and forced to live in tents in crude displaced camps.
Most of the families who remained in Iraq have since returned to what’s been left of their villages. But, many others have yet to come back to what’s left of their home and there’s still much work to be done to restore the dignity, rich culture and quality of life that they once had.
“The needs have shifted in the region. The people now are just trying to pick up the pieces and put their lives back together,” co-founder and board member John David explained.
The focus of the Shlama Foundation has also shifted to accommodate the needs of the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac people of Nineveh not only by working to rebuild their burned down homes, but also restoring their desecrated and looted churches and gravesites.
And, they need your help.
Prior to the invasion, Telkeppe, was once a thriving town, rich with ancient culture and a population of 5,500. Since the invasion and eventual fall of ISIS in that region, only 47 families have returned to find their homeland ravaged and their ancient cemetery in pieces.
But, thanks to years of hard work and dedication of the Shlama Foundation, its donors and 40 Michigan volunteers, the rubble has been cleared, the entrance of the cemetery has been repaired and the sacred cross that stood at its gate for centuries has been carefully restored and re-erected.
“This is symbolic because it shows that we are defying ISIS’ attempt to uproot our indigenous ties and erase our history in the region. It will greatly boost the morale of the families that are returning to their ancient Nineveh town,” said David.
Sidewalk reconstruction, water pipes and a motor for a well at the site also were installed as part of the now completed first phase of the Telkeppe Cemetery project.
But there is still plenty of work to be done there.
The next phase is to restore and replace the shattered gravestones of the ancestors of the Telkeppe people and eventually build a memorial to tell the heartbreaking story of what happened to the city.
The Shlama foundation needs more funding to help make that happen. Donations can be made specifically for this important cultural phase of the project at the foundations’ website. There is also a family memorial request form for those who would like to honor their relatives laid to rest at the Telkeppe cemetery.
The Shlama Foundation also needs a few more boots on the ground for its spring 2019 mission trip.
“We have three more volunteer opportunities that need to be filled. The trip begins on March 21 with the first half spent on volunteer projects near southern Nineveh. The second half will be spent on projects around northern Nineveh. The experience will conclude on April first with our New Year celebration of Akitu,” David explained.
You can still help the homeland in many other ways without volunteering.
Donations can be made for specific needs such as housing, community development, cultural preservation, and youth activities and education which includes plans for a youth community center and soccer stadium.
You can also donate to the Gabara fund for $20 a month to help support the general effort.
“There is no future for us without a thriving homeland and supporting our people back home,” David concluded.
The Shlama Foundation prides itself on transparency by also providing individual donors with photos and videos of the work that they are helping to fund along with personal video mentions, public donation listings and receipts.
Sign up for their monthly newsletter and follow the Shlama Foundation on social media to watch help turn in to hope in the rebuilding of Nineveh.
To learn more about the Shlama Foundation and become a donor or volunteer to help the homeland, simply go to: www.shlama.org.