Comic books bring joy into the learning in Iraq

Comic books bring joy into the learning in Iraq

Jun 1, 2021

Long years of conflict do not only affect infrastructure and governing systems; the daily struggle for survival also wears away at a person’s passion and the joy they feel when doing the things they love. This is particularly the case for young people, especially children who have experienced displacement or the loss of loved ones.

Such is the case in Iraq, once a country whose people were known as “the readers of the Middle East”, and to have one of the strongest education systems in the region. After many years of conflict and the arrival of COVID-19, the education system in Iraq needs support to ensure it can deliver the quality of education to which every child has the right.

One of the principle challenges is the lack of access to libraries. While families may encourage a love for books among their children and adult members alike, often economic conditions make it impossible for them to source suitable books.

To help remedy this situation PIN introduced the comic book “The Adventures of Khalil and Zahara “– an original story now read by thousands of children living in Nineveh, Iraq.

The Adventures of Khalil and Zahara tells the story of a brother and sister. Through six chapters, Khalil and Zahara go through an array of journeys, learning new things along the way. From social cohesion and grieving the loss of a loved one to washing - hands properly and staying in school. The brother and sister duo offer important lessons for children living in vulnerable conditions such as in post-conflict Iraq.

This colourful comic reflects images that children can relate to while teaching them valuable lessons necessary for their daily lives.

In partnership with Malteser International and with funds from the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), PIN went to 22 schools for two weeks in February 2021 distributing 10,000 comic books to students grades 1-12 as a part of a two-year Nineveh Return Programme.

“I like the comic book and I think the stories are amazing,” said Stella, 7, while sitting in her home. “The characters are nice and look funny – their eyes turn to hearts when they see food! It makes me smile.” 

This colourful journey is giving a hand to the efforts of families to deliver positive behaviour messages to their children from an early age. “I make sure to teach my children about these different topics but PIN put it in a nice and creative way which made it more pleasing for the children to learn.” Stella’s mother explained the importance of the lessons addressed in the comic book and how she went into detail with her daughter with the stories, highlighting, for example, the importance of conserving water and why we need to take care of those beautiful trees and flowers she enjoys planting with her grandfather.

“I liked all the stories and I learned many things from each one,” said Stella, “but I like the story ‘Zahra Plants a Tree’ the most. It reminded me of when I plant trees and flowers with my grandfather in our garden.”

further, the fun format of a comic book gives the opportunity for children to share this alternative learning experience together. “I have two sisters who are not in school yet, so I sit with them and I read the stories for them and we watch the cartoons together,” said Stella.

“Reading is important for every child. Through reading children learn many things and shape their personality. Stella likes to read but her two sisters don’t know how to read yet, but I also read for them,” Stella’s mother said.

“In schools they are trying to keep the education levels high but considering the situation this is not working well. I make sure to teach Stella and follow up with her on her education. Education is very important for our family.” 

Above all, a colourful comic book is something rather new to most children in the target area, providing an alternative new teaching method in a fun and easily consumable format.

The lively characters and colours attract the children’s curiosity, leading them to at least take a look at the comic book before they start reading it. “When we were distributing the comic book, kids began reading it as soon as they got their hands on it,” said Ruaa, PIN’s Education Programme Manager for Iraq. “We chose a comic book because it is more accessible to children and will get their attention immediately.”

Since it is a new and interesting teaching method, teachers in schools were happy with the comic book and were helping in the distribution. “After they saw the comic book, teachers were encouraged to do small projects with the students in the classes like making class magazines or report,” said Ruaa.

These comic books are only one contribution in the larger effort to support the Iraqi education system in every way possible, especially for the families who return to their areas after the conflict where many children drop out of school to find jobs in order to support their families.

Thank you to BMZ and partner Malteser International for making this project possible.

Comic book Illustration by: Karam Alshamali


Author: Ruaa Habib and Majd Zaghir