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New schools in new camps in Kurdistan Region of Iraq bring new hopes for Syrian refugees

© UNICEF Iraq/2013/Niles
(Left-right) Aya and Bushara, both 12, became best friends when they arrived at Baherka camp. Aya dreams of becoming an engineer.

By Chris Niles

World Teachers’ Day is 5 October. This year, the theme is ‘A Call for Teachers!’. The day honours teachers who are working to build a sustainable future, with citizens who are fiercely changing their communities and the world around them.

In mid-September, as the school year was about to begin at two refugee camps in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, two Syrian refugees – a teenage girl and a school volunteer, one at each camp ¬– talked about their lives in the camps – and their futures.

ERBIL, Iraq, 4 October 2013 – It’s been nearly two months since the government in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq reopened its borders to accept refugees fleeing conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic. Some 63,000 Syrian people have crossed the border since mid-August.

In mid-September, as the school year was about to begin, two of these refugees, at two different camps, child and adult, dreamer and encourager of dreams, talked about their lives in the camps. 

Adla, Kawergosk refugee camp

15 September 2013 – Adla, 15, came with her mother and father and seven brothers and sisters, ranging in age from 3 to 19.

Their flight was sudden. They walked to the border, bringing only the things that they could carry.

They now live in a small tent in the Kawergosk refugee camp, due west of the regional capital, Erbil.

Becoming accustomed to their new conditions has been hard, upheaval compounded by the fact that their oldest brother was killed in the conflict.

For Adla and her brothers and sisters, grieving and disoriented, time weighs heavy.

“I’m not happy,” she says. “There’s nothing to do.”

The children’s main chore is collecting water, a task that involves jerry cans and several daily trips to a pump, in baking heat. The family has trouble getting enough to eat.

“There’s not enough food for everyone,” Adla says. “We’re not able to buy things because we have no money.”

The conversation is conducted through a translator. When he steps away for a moment to take a telephone call, Adla, her sisters and several other girls who have gathered around, immediately start plucking at their shirts. When the translator returns, he explains what they’re trying to say.

“They have no clothes,” he said. “They came very quickly and didn’t bring anything. No clothes, no money, no food, nothing. They’ve been wearing the same clothes for a month.”

The school year is due to start soon in Kawergosk, and, for Adla it is the key to a better present, as well as a better future.

“I like school very much, because I want to help my father and mother,” she says, wiping tears from her eyes.

Quickly recovering her composure, Adla says her family is very grateful for the warm welcome her family has received in Iraq. And, although things are hard now, she knows that they will not always be this way.

“Someday I would like to be president of Iraq,” she says with a shy smile.

© UNICEF Iraq/2013/Niles
Volunteer Nergiz Ibrahim – herself a refugee – assisted with efforts to open a new school to accommodate 150 students in the Baherka refugee camp. She will also be working as a teacher at the school.

Nergiz, Baherka refugee camp

16 September 2013 – Nergiz Ibrahim, 29, has a composed demeanor and speaks English precisely – the result of an English degree from the University of Damascus.

This morning, in Baherka refugee camp, she’s wearing a T-shirt that marks her out as one of the volunteers who’s working with the camp’s children.

Baherka is a short drive from Erbil, down a winding country road lined with wheat fields. The camp’s in the grounds of a former concrete factory, a massive structure that dwarfs the tents that are now home to thousands of people.

This morning, the entrance of the camp is lined with visitors’ vehicles, and children are waiting excitedly to greet a battery of local officials, including UNICEF partner the Barzani Charity Foundation. The visitors are here to celebrate the opening of a new school, which will accommodate 150 students.

Nergiz is one of the reasons the school is able to open at all. She has joined several Syrian volunteers who have helped to ensure that the school was set up, and that the children who live here can gain a sense of normalcy that the classroom provides.

Nergiz is happy with her new life. She says she lacks for nothing and has more freedom than she used to.

“I enjoy my life here more than Syria. For three years, I couldn’t go out at all. We would stay home and watch television. In three years I didn’t see anything,” she says.

The school opens on September 22, at which time Nergiz will be in the classroom, keeping Syrian traditions alive and encouraging children’s dreams and ambitions.

“This group is very nice,” she says. “I enjoy the experience. I want to work as a teacher.”



UNICEF Photography: Syrian crisis

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