A new life stems from education in Iraq

The prolonged conflict in Iraq between government forces and their allies on one side and the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) on the other, has left a devastating legacy. It is not just a matter of damages to infrastructures and services, but also and above all, of injuries on people’s minds and hearts. Even in those of children.

Still today, boys and girls in Ninewa Governorate do not have access to quality education. The schools, previously used by ISIS as shelters or warehouses, have been largely looted: doors and windows are missing, the electricity system is not working, generators have been stolen, the furniture destroyed and the walls riddled by the bullets.

For over three years, most of the children could not attend school. Even today, economic difficulties do not allow parents to send their children to school, which in some cases end up being involved in forms of child labor.

Teachers are not trained to work in emergency context and have limited skills in managing pupils with psychological and behavioral disorders related to war trauma. There are also many other problems: schools do not keep track of students’ attendance; there are only a few qualified teachers; and those who are, do not have the time or the means to scout the territory to recruit displaced or returnee children.

In this scenario, parents do not consider the school a safe place to send their children to, and they do not realize how important is the role of the school in regaining normalcy.

“With this project we want to increase the educational opportunities of school-age children and, at the same time, provide psychosocial support to children affected by the conflict in Iraq. In order to do so, we are developing inclusive education through an integrated work with teachers, communities, families and the school facilities“, explains Lorena D’Ayala Valva, Emergency Coordinator for Cesvi.

In eight schools we will perform different rehabilitations according to the specific need: for example, we will supply furniture, fix the hydraulic system, set up the electricity system and give access to drinking water. Over 3,000 educational school kits will be distributed and psychosocial support will be provided through recreational activities and  teacher-parent groups. Capillary awareness campaigns will be conducted to promote the value of education and to prevent early school drop-out.

Among the schools we are working with is that of Gori Ghariban, a small village in the Mosul district in northern Iraq. The project coordinated by Cesvi is supported by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation and is implemented by the Czech NGO People in Need, our partner in the European Alliance2015 network.

The headmaster of Gori Ghariban’s school, Ahmed Munir, 54, is a very special person. Like most of his fellow citizens, he had to flee during the conflict with ISIS. “I took refuge in Akre, a village 64 kilometers from Gori Ghariban” – he says – “Other 140 people were on the run with me: in the early days, the generosity of the citizens of Akre saved us. They welcomed us, fixed uninhabited houses or disused shops and fed us their food”. “Little by little, I managed to enroll my family on public lists  that allowed us to start receiving food on a regular basis and to send my children to school. Things have improved but, as soon as I had the chance, I chose to go back to my village”.

The primary school headed by Ahmed is a small blue building with six classes and a muddy courtyard that gets covered in puddles when it rains. There is no drinking water inside the complex, so students and staff are forced to drink unsafe water from a well in courtyard. The small but functioning bathroom needs to be enlarged and refurbished, while the electricity needs to be restored.

“I hope this project will give me the opportunity to make my school a beautiful and safe place for children to come and learn many things. The new renovation will allow us to repair doors and windows and stay warm during the winter, when temperatures go below zero “- explains Ahmed -“My dream is that one day, when they will be adults, my students will give a whole new life to our village“.

Ahmed’s eyes sparkle in saying these words. Life for him was not easy. Today he is back at work, and is enthusiastic about the recreational and psychosocial support sessions that we will organize to help the children overcome the traumas of the conflict. “We are also looking for materials and teachers of English and mathematics” he concludes “I am ready to commit myself for these children, who represent our hope and our future”.

“Providing inclusive quality education and learning opportunities for all” is the objective of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. To date, however, there are still 303 million children and teenagers who do not have the opportunity to access primary school services or complete their educational path. Poverty, discrimination, armed conflicts and migration are the main causes of early school drop-out. 1 child out of 3 who does not attend school lives in emergency situations (Unicef). To these children is dedicated the International Day of Education, established in December 2018 by the United Nations to celebrate the importance of education in creating a sustainable and resilient society.

Cover photo: Petr Stefan, People in Need