School offers a chance to begin again

This story was originally posted by Medium

18 October 2015 - It’s a bright day in Cham Mishko camp in the Kurdistan region of Iraq and after months of searing heat, the daytime temperatures are beginning to drop. At a new tented school in the camp, 560 children have turned up for their first day of school and are sitting quietly in their classrooms, books laid out in front of them.

“They are very happy to finally be here,” says Khaled, the principal, who is, like most of his students, displaced from Sinjar. “With school in session teachers and children are happy for their futures.”

Besides being from Iraq’s Yazidi minority, these children have another thing in common — they’ve lost an entire year of schooling due to conflict.

A Yazidi boy prepares for his first day at school in Cham Mishko camp, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. © UNICEF Iraq/2015/Niles

Most of the families in Cham Mishko have been in the camp since August of last year, driven out by violence. There are now 25,660 people living in the camp and the need for schooling is great.

This school, supported by a generous contribution from GIZ, has fifteen classrooms and can accommodate 1,200 children in two shifts per day. The older children will be taught in the morning and the primary school students will take their places in the afternoon. The curriculum is in both Arabic and Kurdish.

October 18 marks back to school for most of the over one million displaced children of school age in Iraq — of those 700,000 have lost an entire year of school.

Ziad, 18, is among those eager to resume their studies. “We were comfortable in my old home and at my old school, but have many friends here from Sinjar,” he says. He particularly likes mathematics and is confident he can fulfill his dream of having a career in information technology.

All over Iraq children are getting reacquainted with the notion of student life again, and establishing a routine which help them to process the suffering of being displaced and the violence that they’ve endured, but also give them hope for the future.

Ziad opens an economics textbook on his first day back at school in Cham Mishko camp. © UNICEF Iraq/2015/Niles

Despite a year with no formal learning Ziad hopes he can fulfill his dream of having a career in information technology. “We are guests here in this land,” he says.

“I feel like an unknown person here, but I have to hope that I will graduate from college. We Yazidis are peaceful people; this is very important for us.”

Chris Niles is a Consultant with UNICEF Iraq.

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© UNICEF Iraq/2015/Niles