Iraqi youth in Ninawa province have been working to rehabilitate local churches that were damaged while the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) was in control of the area.
Through local initiatives, hundreds of volunteers are seeking to heal societal rifts by encouraging Iraqi Christians to return to their homes in greater numbers.
"Mosul of Peace", one of four teams of Mosul-based volunteers, recently launched the "Church Revival Initiative" to repair damaged churches.
A large number of young men and women from the province are taking part, said civil activist and Mosul of Peace team member Mohammed Qusay.
"There are three other teams: the Ninawa Peace Team, Giving Without Borders and the Ninawa Youth Media Cell, as well as volunteers and independent activists who are not affiliated with any party," he told Diyaruna.
About 300 volunteers are taking part in the initiative, 45 of whom belong to Mosul of Peace and 180 of whom are independent participants, he said.
Encouraging minorities to return
"These volunteers represent the many ethnic groups living in Mosul and in Ninawa province," he said, adding that they "form a cohesive and united mix that reflects the strength of the relations between Iraqis".
"Our initiative is focused on working together, collectively, to revive churches that have been tampered with by the terrorists and the extremists in our city of Mosul and in the Ninawa Plain area," Qusay said.
The purpose behind the initiative is to "try to send a message of reassurance to our Christian brothers and urge them to return to their homes from camps and shelters to practice their religion freely", he said.
"We want to overcome the impact left by ISIS and once again live together on this land: Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and all other parts of society," he added.
Efforts are focused on rebuilding the social fabric and ending the period of terrorism, he said, noting that the initiative has been warmly received by local residents, with messages of solidarity also coming in from Iraqis living abroad.
The teams began their work by cleaning and repairing two churches, the Church of the Virgin Mary in eastern Mosul and the Church of the Heart of Christ in the town of Tall Kayf, north of Mosul, Qusay said.
They intend to rehabilitate more than 30 churches in and around Mosul, he said, calling on the government and the relevant authorities to support the initiative.
"There is wide-scale destruction and we need help from everyone to be able to overcome the challenges," he said.
'We are one people'
"This is a fine initiative by young people who are aware and devoted to their country, and who aim to repair the cracks that the terrorists have made in Ninawa society," said Ninawa provincial council security committee member Hassan Shabib.
Ninawa has long been distinguished by the amity between its various ethnic and religious groups, Shabib told Diyaruna.
When ISIS overran Mosul in mid-2014, thousands of Christians and other minorities fled the province, after the group confiscated their homes and burned and destroyed their places of worship.
Even though the province has been fully recovered from ISIS control, "there is still very limited return of displaced Christians", Shabib said.
"They must be reassured that the ISIS chapter has been closed for good and danger is gone, never to return," he said. "This youth initiative is an important step in that direction."
"The initiative reflects the depth of social cohesion and the desire to build bridges of trust to consolidate co-existence and social stability," Ninawa provincial council member Seydou al-Tatani told Diyaruna.
"The terrorists tried to strike at our unity, but they were disappointed, and now here are local residents and young people putting things back in order," he said.
"We thank the organisers of this initiative and salute their efforts, and we call on everybody to work to spread harmony and love, because we are one people and can only live if we are together," al-Tatani added.