Education for displaced Iraqi children

by Nikki Gamer, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Communications Officer

One of the many things that gets left behind when a family is uprooted by war, is a child’s education. If left without schooling for a prolonged time, the long-term effects on a child’s life and possibilities can be devastating.

Around a dozen children are playing in two large tents in the harsh landscape of Iraqi Kurdistan. These are child support centres run by Caritas Iraq and CRS (a US member of the Caritas confederation) where more than 2,000 Iraqi children can relax and play in a safe place.

Trained volunteers, most of whom were displaced by ISIS, offer daily activities like games, arts and crafts, drama, music and non-formal education to help reintroduce a sense of normalcy into children’s lives. Photo by Kim Pozniak/CRS

“The goal is to ultimately get kids enrolled in school,” explains Courtney Lare, who oversees the project for CRS. “We intend our child support centres to be a bridge back to a formal education.”

One of these children is Nariman Chamo, 11. Like many of the children who attend the centres, Nariman experienced significant trauma when her family was forced from their home by ISIS in August 2014. They fled on foot when ISIS fighters attacked their village in Sinjar district, about 100 miles west of Mosul.

According to news reports, hundreds of Yazidis were massacred during the onslaught. Although Nariman’s family, Yazidis themselves, were spared that fate, they were trapped on Sinjar Mountain for 8 days without food or water.

Nariman’s mother, Klocher Mhe, 34, says, “We left with just the clothes on our backs and our children in our arms.”

She watched her six children slip in and out of consciousness because they were hungry and dehydrated. She says that each day is still like a new nightmare: They continue to live in fear that ISIS will take them away.

More than 2,000 children participate in education, counseling and recreation at CRS’ child support centers in northern Iraq. CRS and Caritas Iraq plan to expand the program to reach even more children. Photo by Kim Pozniak/CRS

Her father Hussain Chamo says, “It’s very useful for our children because it keeps them busy and it’s a nonstop learning process.”

However hard their lives have been and continue to be, the family is thankful to have the child support centres, which have become places for healing.

“Whenever I see a smile on one of their faces, I know that deep down, everything is going to be OK,” Klocher says. “It’s like God has given us a second chance at life.”

Education in Iraqi Kurdistan is hard to come by for those who have been displaced. It’s estimated that about 65 percent of displaced children do not attend school because there is no space for them in classrooms. Hundreds of schools in the region double as emergency shelter for thousands of displaced families. To fill the education gap, CRS is transitioning to teaching a formal curriculum at the child support centres.


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