Building a Better Future in IraqOct 6, 2020
After the rule of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), destruction and insecurity was left in its wake. And no place was hit quite as hard as the city of Mosul – their last stronghold. Since the fall of ISIL in 2017, children across Iraq struggle to continue their education, as many villages found their local school buildings destroyed from the conflict. People in Need (PIN) and Malteser International saw the construction of two brand new schools in the Mosul governorate – from clearing rubble at the beginning to fully furnishing it and installing solar panels at the end – to provide thousands of school-aged children a safe place to build their future.
“Before 2014, everything was well and we lived peacefully,” explained the Mukhtar (community leader) of a small village near Mosul. “After the conflict ended, people started to return back home to find… no homes, no schools, no health clinics.”
As communities tried to rebuild their lives after years of conflict, one solution in continuing primary and elementary education was to send children to schools still standing in neighbouring areas. Abdullah, 55 from a village on the outskirts of Mosul City, is dedicated to ensuring his five children and 12 grandchildren are always working toward their futures. During the time his village didn’t have any school structures, “For one of my children, I used to take him to Mosul [City] to study and wait for him until he finished to get back to the village,” he told PIN.
For many families, however, this option was impossible as they simply couldn’t afford the time nor transportation costs.
Later, some villages were provided mobile caravan structures as a temporary solution for students and teachers. But by the time PIN engineers arrived, the caravans – which were only meant to last one or two years, but were clearly used for much more – were falling apart. Roofs were leaking, huge mud puddles blocked the entryway, and the cramped space of these makeshift classrooms were far from being a suitable learning environment.
Ayad, 50, is the headmaster of a primary school in one of the villages PIN works in. He became headmaster in 2018, during the time of the caravan classrooms. “I was bewildered,” he expressed. “I wanted to start from somewhere but did not know from where to start. We had nothing and I felt that we were lost.”
At the same time, Ayad felt determined. He immediately began gathering funds from the community to begin rehabilitating the run-down caravans, fixing leaks, installing a fence, and pouring concrete.
“I was only trying to save the children from getting hurt and not let them go to the street,” Ayad explains, as the caravans were not only unideal, but unsafe. “I am thankful because PIN came at last to build the schools. It was a surprise especially for me.”
The feeling of surprise was not an uncommon sentiment felt throughout the villages PIN built schools in. After years of fighting, insecurity, and too many false promises of change, people in Mosul were beginning to give up hope.
This newly constructed school, however, represents hope. According to the village Mukhtar, the community values education greatly. “People here want to develop and build a better educated community and I know this school will contribute into this,” the Mukhtar tells us. “I hope that with this school we can have future leaders who will not only contribute into building this community but developing and benefiting our country.” With this school, the Mukhtar believes, more people will finally return from displacement.
These schools have witnessed tangible changes in the community’s children, even before them opening. Kids walk past this beautiful building and can’t wait for classes to start.
Zakaraia, 6, hasn’t started the 1st grade yet, but seeing this new school makes him more excited than ever. “I would like to come to the new school,” he tells us enthusiastically. “The school is very beautiful and I would like to become an engineer to build a school like this in the future.”
"To be honest,” Ayad, the school headmeaster, tells us, “it is not a mere school anymore. It is a fun and safe space for them. The school became their only shelter in this village.” More than one community member expressed to PIN the importance of safe spaces for children to play, learn, and develop as it keeps them on “the right track” and toward a stronger future – for themselves and for the community as a whole.
“This beautiful building makes the students excited to start school,” says Abdullah, father of children who will attend the school once it opens. “They see it as a place for amusement and they ask every day when will the school open and they can attend.” Not only children, but every community member can’t help but walk past the colourful walls and green garden without expressing “mashallah” (an Arabic expression of joy and appreciation).
More than just a visually beautiful addition to the villages, the physical construction of these two schools also benefited their communities as it incorporated a work placement programme. Members of the community themselves were the workers who put these projects together, providing them a source of income for the months it took to complete.
Ahmed, 27, helped build the school in his village. He studies law in university, but with the current economic state as it is, including the added challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, most people in his community could use an extra income. Ahmed was able to provide daily necessities to his family better and could afford proper medical care in ways he wasn’t able to before thanks to this work placement.
Moreover, he is proud to have been a part of something so impactful to the ones he loves – including his four nephews who are in primary school. “The school is the base of every community,” Ahmed shared with us. “As a student and someone who studied here, I feel very proud to have worked in building this beautiful school. The new school provides a window of hope for the students.”
Construction faced many setbacks due to the Coronavirus pandemic and resulting border closures, but in the end PIN managed to complete the projects with 120 days. Each schools is between 1,000-1,500 square metres with 6 classrooms each along with teacher offices, modern washrooms, and of course a big yard and garden to play in. Fully furnished with desks, white boards, and supplies, these schools have everything they need for classes to resume this fall.
Later this year, PIN will return to these two school and install solar panels to increase the level of sustainability for these children’s education. Most of these remote locations have very limited access to electricity, and not everyone can afford a private generator. To ensure the safety and consistency of these spaces in fostering quality education, the move to renewable energy is essential. This initiative also seeks to incorporate environmental awareness activities for the children, so they can better build a sustainable future for themselves.
After years of pushing onward through the rubble of their destroyed community, the impact of these schools on children and their families is innumerable.
This was possible thanks to the support and hard work of the communities PIN worked in, in partnership with Malteser International and with funds from the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). By the end of this project, a total of 20 additional schools will have also been rehabilitated, 10 with solar panels.