Hundreds of thousands of families were forced to flee their homes in Iraq when extremists, the so-called Islamic State (IS), took over a third of the country in 2014. The Iraqi government announced the conflict’s end in late 2017 after liberating the last zones of occupation. But what happens to children and their education in this context following extremist occupation?
Even though a new chapter has begun for the almost four million people who have returned to their former homes in Iraq, families are still faced with destruction and devastation.
“Culturally, for Iraqi people, home is not just a house made out of walls. It’s a place full of memories,” explains Intisar Rashid, one of Destination Unknown member Terre des Hommes’ (TDH) liaison officers in Iraq. Torn from their ‘place of memories’ and enduring three years of trauma, the situation remains difficult for children.
Districts like Al Anbar and Tal Afar were under IS occupation throughout the war. Children experienced violence, were indoctrinated in IS schools, or were hidden by their parents to save them from jihadist education systems. Many children were displaced, and unable to attend school.
Going back to school is a crucial step for children to begin to recover from conflict. Even though the trauma of war has not yet been overcome, ensuring access to education and preventing children from dropping out is an important step for children’s well-being, both now and in the future.
Educating children to help them recover
TDH supports children’s access to quality education and helps to create a supportive environment in which to learn, in a context where schools trying to educate children in former conflict areas are overwhelmed.
TDH’s support for schools focuses on both the children and teachers. “One of the general fears for staff in schools is that IS will return or attack again, hidden within the population,” says Cynthia Winkelmann, TDH’s humanitarian aid expert.
Teachers have an important role within communities, and TDH works with teachers to assess the extent to which they have been affected by the conflict. The organisation also provides psychosocial support to help them cope with the effects of the conflict and the challenging situation they are in. TDH offers specialised training to teachers to adequately care for children traumatised in places they once thought safe.
“We support resilience to make the return home more manageable for children and we promote life skills that they can use to overcome traumatic experiences,” says Marta Alberici, TDH’s Child Protection and Education Coordinator in Iraq.
To ensure a sustainable impact, teachers also learn how to efficiently educate children who have experienced trauma, where children can struggle with communication skills or with understanding and responding to their emotions.
The main goal is to provide a child-friendly and inclusive environment to help and encourage children to stay in school. Afterschool classes are provided to help children rebuild their skills, confidence, knowledge and continue their education after missing school or were forced to attend institutions run by IS to continue their education.
TDH is working with both local and national authorities to assist schools, children and their families in the most useful way to them – based on priorities agreed with authorities and the needs identified by the people they work with.
Children living under IS witnessed or suffered horrific violence and had their education abruptly halted or controlled. Many were forced to flee their homes and move elsewhere. As families return and start to rebuild their lives, it is crucial that their right to an education is upheld and that they can learn in a safe, stable environment.
Photo: Children play in a child-friendly space run by Terre des Hommes in Tikrit, Iraq. ©Tdh-Iraq