Back to School Open Day

Back to School Open Day

On a hot day of September 26th 2018, the community of a village in the Hamam-Alil district of Ninewa governorate of Iraq came together to celebrate the new school year. It has been a little over a year and a half since the village was retaken from ISIL and both schools for girls and boys opened their doors again. 

It is Back to School Open Day and People in Need and UNESCO which administrates EU funded project in Iraq gathered community leaders, teachers, parents and over 250 pupils to join in the celebration. On this occasion we talked to the Primary School for Girls Headmistress Zeina about the post-war state of education in Iraq.

We also had the opportunity to speak to 9 year old Rawa’, a current pupil, and her 14 year old sister Nour, a former pupil who now attends middle school but has joined her sister and brother Youssif (11) in the community celebration. We also spoke to their father Khalid, from whom we learned how Rawa’ and her siblings are recovering from living under ISIL. 

On Education

Headmistress Zeina: “I became a teacher because I love children and have very strong feelings towards them. I decided to choose teaching, even though I was accepted at a medical institute for studies, but I still decided to go into teaching like all the other members of my family. I teach science and art. What I like the most about teaching is to observe the relationship between children and also towards learning, to watch how they reach their goals. I enjoy giving them knowledge. School is like a mother, especially as we live in a village. Education is about raising our children as well as about teaching them. Teaching is also a service to the country”.

It gets very rowdy outside the classroom we are speaking in, music is blaring from the sound system and we can barely hear Headmistress Zeina as she speaks. She smiles openly for the first time and her tired eyes light up as she almost apologetically says: “Let them enjoy the party, the children have been so deprived of music and parties. They have been deprived of education but they do want to learn!”

Rawa’s Father Khalid: “I motivate all my children, especially the girls, to get an education. More than their mother does (he smiles). I have also been a pupil of this school and was not able to further my education. Now I want to see my daughters finish school and complete their further education."

Life under ISIL

Headmistress Zein: “When Daesh (local term for ISIL) first came to our area they forced they the teachers to come to meetings and go to school and teach. At that time I requested a maternity leave so I didn’t have to come to school. The children were also forced to go to schools under Daesh, and some did go as people were afraid of what would happen if they didn’t. The children were given different books to our curricula, but I didn’t see what was taught."

Father Khalid: “Our family was very much affected by the war. We were actually among the most targeted our village as there are doctors, engineers, teachers and officers in the family. My daughter Rawa’ did not go to school, I did not register her. Under Daesh, she was supposed to enter into the 1st grade. Last year when the school reopened she skipped the year and went straight to 2nd grade. My son Youssif did not go to school during the war either. During that time, I taught both Rawa’ and Youssif at home and thanks to that they are not behind on their achievements. I still closely follow and tutor them at home."

How has the war affected the children

Father Khalid: “For Nour school was better before the war, when she was going to school with her friends. Now many of Nour’s friends are not attending middle school any more. Several have died, some have gotten married, and others just left school. During the liberation, Daesh forced us all to leave out homes and the village. At that time Rawa’ survived a near death twice. Once she fell off a bridge, another time she survived a close IED explosion. But now it is much better when all my children can go to school again”.

Headmistress Zein: “The Children really want to learn. Last year when we reopened the schools bombs and mortars were still falling nearby but we still kept teaching them. We have seen that Daesh has changed their behavior, they taught them about arms, how to use weapons. The children would copy them and fight amongst each other. But since ISIL is no longer here and we have reopened our schools this has improved with the help and care of the teachers and the parents. Now the children need to learn more and better. We are currently facing a shortage of teachers. We need 11 teachers, including myself, for 10 classrooms. I have 6 teachers now and one will leave to study. Another two are due to go on maternity leave, and I should also still be on maternity leave, but how can I, how can I leave my school? The children also need new desks. They need culture and also entertainment!” 

Rawa’ and Nour about a normal school day and what they want to be when they grow up

Nour: “On a normal school day I wake up, have breakfast and go to school. After coming back home I take rest and eat. Then I do my homework I watch TV or sit with my family. I would like to be a teacher or a nurse. I would prefer to be a teacher but that depends on whether I get good grades. My favorite subject is English, my least favorite is maths. I understand a little when you speak English…”

Rawa’: “I want to be a doctor! When my father takes me to hospital, I see they are organized and I want to be like them. At school the worst subject is maths, but the best subject is reading. Normally, I go to school, then I eat and I do my homework. I go to play on the swings. I also play at “family” with my sisters – someone is a mother, a father, children."

Father Khalid: "She also plays at doctor with her sisters, they pretend to be sick so that she can then give them an injection and make them better. She also reads a lot.”

Headmistress Zeina and Nour would like to share a message with the world

Headmistress Zein: “I wish for everyone to live a safe and happy life, and to have good health. I wish for our school to rise up and become well-known for its high quality education. And I wish for the children to achieve the highest level of success.”

 Nour: “Education is useful and its harmless. It’s a pity to see children that don’t know how to read and write, their parents should send them to school. I ask people from other countries to support other children too, because we have spent our whole life in wars and fighting.”

Author: Soolaima Kourdi, Ivan Silo Khider