|© UNICEF Iraq/Noorani/2004|
|Eleven-year-old Zainab is happy to be in class but her school still needs major repairs|
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BAGHDAD/NEW YORK, 15 October 2004 – In spite of overwhelming difficulties, millions of Iraqi children struggle to school every day. They face the constant threat of kidnapping, violence and bombings, and the schools themselves are overcrowded, in need of major repairs and likely without water or sanitation.
Eleven-year-old Zainab Jabbar is happy to be back in class, but is well aware that more needs to be done before she can be sure of an adequate education.
“Our school is under rehabilitation now, and so we moved to study in a nearby building until work finishes there. If only streets could be cleaned and the open sewage channels and garbage disappear, our city would be nice and children would become healthy,” she says.
A survey by the Iraqi Ministry of Education shows that Zainab is not alone. Thousands of schools have been seriously damaged or looted during the conflict and many now operate a shift system, with one or more occupying the same building. More than half are without water or sanitation.
|© UNICEF Iraq/Noorani/2004|
|Zainab’s mother is determined to give her children a proper education. With them is Zainab’s baby sister Rukaiya who nearly died from malnutrition and dehydration last year.|
Zainab’s mother, Wafa Abdul Jabbar, lost her arm in a bomb blast last year and finds it difficult supporting her six children on her own. Her youngest, baby Rukaiya, almost died from severe malnutrition and dehydration and had to be looked after by her siblings. Even so, Wafa is determined to get them all back to school.
“My prime goal in life is to educate all my children and prepare them for the future. Despite all difficulties I will save no effort in achieving this goal,” she says.
But the biggest obstacle to education remains the worsening security situation in many parts of Iraq. Parents are too frightened to let their children out of their homes and school repairs are set back because of continuing violence.
“Students in our area have started to loathe school,” says Azhar Saad, principal of Al Najah Primary School in Baghdad. “All the buildings date back to the 1960s. There are no toilets, no sewage facilities, no drinking water. When the bell rings all the students run outside to drink from a low tap in the garden.”
One of the pupils, Dirgham Abdul Aziz walks along a corridor pointing out the problems. “This is my classroom,” he says. “First of all there is no door. The floor tiles are broken, the windows are broken, the desks are broken, the students have to sit on the floor and the blackboard is so old that we cannot write on it.”
Iraq once had the finest school system in the Middle East. UNICEF is continuing to work with the Iraqi Ministry of Education to ensure that all children can again realize their right to a quality education.