Sarab’s Story

This story was originally posted by Medium


In May, Sarab, 14, had been out of school for more than a year. She is one of many Iraqi children thrust into the unenviable position as head of a devastated household living in a camp for displaced families.

Last year, when an armed group attacked Sinjar, Sarab and her family of twelve fled. The two vehicles in which they were traveling were separated, and Sarab hasn’t seen her parents since.

Now, she must cook, clean and care for her six surviving siblings, as well as their elderly grandmother. In the course of all that responsibility, Sarab missed the deadline to register at the camp school.

She loves school. She misses it. Sitting on slim cushions on the concrete floor of their warm tent, she explained that she’s a good student. Her favorite subject is English.

But Sarab had fallen through the cracks of an overstretched and underfunded international relief effort in Iraq. Across the country, 3 million conflict-affected children are currently unable to access quality education opportunities. This number is expected to rise to 3.6 million by the end of 2015 if urgent funding needs are not met.

When a UNICEF Education Officer met Sarab in mid-May, she had already come to terms with missing the school year.

The UNICEF Education Officer had other ideas. Together with camp management and the local Department of Education, special arrangements were made for Sarab to complete her final exams. She received textbooks and diligently prepared.

Last week, 14-year old Sarab stopped playing the part of a parent for one day.

She woke up, looked over her notes, walked to the UNICEF-supported caravan school, and, sitting with her classmates for the first time in over a year, completed her year-end exams.

“I used to watch other children in the camp go to school in the morning,” Sarab says. “I love my family, and I miss my parents. Being back in school is a small reminder of the life we left behind.”

While unimaginable violence cost Sarab the last year of her childhood, UNICEF and partners have ensured that it didn’t also cost her a year of school.


Lindsay Mackenzie is a consultant with UNICEF Iraq.

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Sarab sits her year-end exams at a UNICEF-supported caravan school. Photo: UNICEF/2015/Ammar Asmaro