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Back to School in Iraq - but what a mess!

Back to School in Iraq - but what a mess!

Article Courtesy of World Vision NZ After suffering bombing raids and the deprivations of war, Mustafa returned to school only to find it looted and vandalised.


Children in an Iraqi street…

World Vision aims to restore such schools and thereby assist children to a more normal and happier life.

After suffering the fear and deprivations of war 12-year-old Mustafa Mohammed Nadhim might have hoped that once things calmed down they might have returned to some semblance of normality. Instead he found his school smashed and stripped – one of many public buildings targeted in the orgy of looting that followed the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Hence Mustafa’s first days back at Niniveh Boys Primary School, after a month’s absence, were spent padding carefully around classrooms filled with broken glass trying to clean up the mess.

His message to the looters: “I ask you why have you looted this school? This school is for all the people here. It is our second home.”

Sadly, when I visited, I found the second home remains in an atrocious condition. Hardly a window is intact, wiring has been ripped from the walls and bare wires poke ominously out of electrical sockets. The school library is a burned-out shell and the assembly hall a clutter of broken chairs and wooden panels ripped from the stage.

In the West the school would almost certainly be declared unfit to use. But such is the dedication of the teaching staff, the classrooms are now functioning and nearly the entire roll of six hundred are now back in class

Despite the poor conditions, memories of the nights when bombers pelted his city and days without water and electricity, Mustafa seems remarkably unscathed. Like many in his part of the city, he comes from a poor family, living with his grandfather who scrapes a living as a vegetable seller. But his appearance is clean and neat and during class he shines – regularly thrusting up his hand to answer questions and sometimes being picked out by his teacher to illustrate an answer on the blackboard for the benefit of the rest of the class. His favourite subject is mathematics. One day he would like to become an electrical engineer.

Mustafa does not care to talk too much about the war.

“I was afraid and I was angry” is all he wishes to say to me on the subject.

One senses that he does not wish to say the wrong thing. Only weeks ago his school day would begin with a homily about Saddam Hussein, the face of the man would smile benignly out of his school textbook and an art class might consist of designing a propaganda poster in praise of the former president*.

Today children must cope with the transition to a new era. World Vision plans to assist by rehabilitating schools such as Nineveh Boys Primary. Replacing books and stationery, dispensing with dilapidated furniture and restoring facilities like libraries and gymnasiums.

As one kindergarten teacher said to World Vision relief administrator Doris Knoechel.

“We need to do everything which absorbs the shock, anything which helps restore normal life.”

Mustafa reckons the best thing would be for the school to get new desks and chairs because they are essential for writing.

“And a football,” he adds after some thought. “There’s been no football played since we came back. We don’t have a ball.”


* When James Addis and James East visited the nearby education ministry – ransacked and deserted they found several such pictures, drawn by children, scattered on the floor. One consisted of a picture of Saddam, underneath was a scroll and a quill being dipped in an ink bottle marked “blood”.

The words on the scroll were:

“After Saddam we are not going to live.

“Write the greatest word “yes” for the Arab leader.

“Write it with blood.

“Yes, Yes, Yes.

“For the leader Saddam Hussein.”


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