“We dream of a better future for our children”
Ramzy Khaeb Elias (shown) clearly remembers the occupation of his village. He recalls all the children running for their lives with their families, and the devastation of the following days. “That was a terrible time,” he says, “ the schools and all the public buildings were destroyed.”
Mr Elias used to be the headmaster of the school in the village of Manarat Shabak. Seen from above, it is just a few houses in the middle of the Nineveh Plane desert, 20km east of Mosul. Life was peaceful here, where temperatures here can reach 50 degrees in the summer, until Daesh arrived.
“I used to organise school activities and I always made efforts to in-volve the community, in order to create a good atmosphere and fulfil the needs of the boys and girls”, Mr Elias continues. Then, dur-ing the occupation, most of the inhabitants fled. “Together with the other teachers we continued organising lessons for the families who had left, but it was just not possible to continue our previous routine. Once the village was liberated, people started coming back and, day by day, the village came back to life,” he says. But when he and his students came back to school, they found nothing but piles of rubble. The whole village had to be rebuilt.
We decided to help them rebuild, starting with the schools.
There is still a lot of work to be done, but we have already seen great results,” says Elias happily as he watches the builders who have been working since dawn. “My dream for this school? A library, a computer room, interactive whiteboards. But more than anything I want to create safe spaces”, he says. “And prevent of all forms of violence between the children.”
When we suggested including a few hours of Education for Peace in the school timetable, Mr Elias was very enthusiastic. “It is vital that we teach children the importance of coexistence and mutual respect. They have to learn how to accept everybody, regardless of background and religion.”
He dreams of a sports field and spaces where the children can pursue with their own hobbies. “ I would like to give heartfelt thanks to all the people who contributed to rebuilding this school. It is a step towards returning to a normal life, and ensuring the respect of human rights in this country,’ he adds before saying goodbye. And we are making every effort to help his dreams, and those of his little community, come true.
“My life before Daesh? It was normal, you know? I went to school every morning, I looked after my students. Our life was like everybody else’s around the world.” Before the war, Najem Abdullah Hasan (shown) was the school headmaster in Khanhash Village, nestled on the banks of the River Tigris, just a few kilometres from the ancient Assirian city of Nimrud, in the heart of Mesopotamia. Famous for its’ archeological sites, this area was once listed as a world heritage site, until the Islamic State destroyed them, as well as the surrounding villages and schools. “Education just stopped, the healthcare services fell apart and life became very precarious: daily life, quite simply, was war,” recalls Headmaster Hasan.
“For the people who stayed in the village during the occupation, life was extremely tough. Especially for people like us who worked in the school. They forced us to teach only religion and nothing else. After school we had to go home and stay there. We were prisoners in our own village,’ he says.
Then after the liberation, the situation gradually started to change. “Khanhash Village had been destroyed, there was no life here. So we rolled up our sleeves and started rebuilding. First ourselves and then our surroundings. And the village came back to life,” explains Hasan.
“But we had changed too: we had a better understanding of vital concepts such as the promotion of peace and our need for stability was overwhelming. Now I would like to be able to offer moral and psychological support to my students to help them deal with what they experienced. I would like to change the school curricula and introduce Education for Peace; rebuild our education system and offer financial assistance for families who can’t afford to send their children to school. I would like my students to be free to express their creativity like other children around the world,” adds Hasan.
We have been active for many years in the Nineveh Plane which was occupied by Daesh for 3 years and then decimated by war. We decided to start with rebuilding the schools, so that more than 2000 boys and girls can go back to their desks from September. We have already renovated 3 schools, including those run by Elias and Hasan. We made the official hand-over to the Iraqi Education Ministry in May. But we want to rebuild 4 more before September: but we need your help.
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