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Hope for children — even if they are behind bars

Iraq
© UNICEF/Iraq-2013
UNICEF Iraq South Zone Chief, Maulid Warfa visits the classroom of Amal Primary School established in Basra Central Prison. ©UNICEF/Iraq-2013

By Maulid Warfa and Hassnein Hadi

BASRA, Iraq, 23 October 2013—Mohamed is the eldest of six children. At primary school he was among the best students in his class.

At the age 12, Mohamed decided to support his family while continuing his education. “I liked my school very much, but I felt the responsibility to help my father and to provide some income,” he said.

He found a job at a store in Basra which paid about $12 a day. “This helped my family a lot.”

But the demands of the job forced Mohamed to leave school.

“I was very comfortable and happy with my work and I was well respected at home by my parents and my sisters,” he said.

But one morning while at work he found himself in contact with the law.

At 3am Mohamed heard roaring of motorbike engines and sound of breaking glasses. He saw several boys with motorbikes breaking into a mobile phone shop. “I shouted at them and they fled. I then went to see what they were doing. I found the door open. I entered the shop, but within seconds, security guards came in and found me. They called the police.”

Mohamed was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison.

In November 2011, he was moved to Basra Central Prison where he shared a cell with ten other boys.

In September 2012, Amal Primary School opened in the prison, the result of nearly a year of UNICEF negotiation with Basra authorities. Amal means ‘hope’ in Arabic.

The school has 45 students in three different levels. It also provides adult literacy classes for 100 male and 20 female inmates from Maqal Prison, which is not far from Basra Central Prison.

It has changed Mohamed’s life.

“Before the school, I was depressed, sad and confused, but when the school started, I spent all my spare time studying, as I felt life coming back to me again.”

Mohamed’s commitment was reflected in his grades. He was one of two students in the school to pass their stage three national Accelerated Learning Programme examinations with top ten scores

“I never thought I was going to pass with such high marks and it is a very beautiful feeling,” he said.

UNICEF’s new Justice for Children Programme in Basra continues to support children like Mohamed, so that they can continue their education and find purpose in life, even when they’re in maximum. The programme is expanding—a new prison school is opening in Nassriyah on Sunday 27 October and another one in Ammara early next year.

For Mohammed, prison is now just a bad memory. The same day he got his test scores he found out he was also was eligible for early release.

Today, Mohamed is reunited with his family and free to pursue his dreams.

“I want to become the best engineer in Iraq, and I know I can,” he said.

 

 
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