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Amid an uncertain future, Syrian children attend a newly opened school in Iraq's Baherka refugee camp

© UNICEF Iraq/2013/Niles
Liloz, 12, holds an English lesson book in Baherka camp, Kurdistan Region of Iraq. She wants to continue studying the subject. “I loved my English teacher. She taught me how to believe in the future,” she says.

By Chris Niles

The second annual International Day of the Girl Child is 11 October 2013. This year’s Day focuses on innovating for girls’ education, building on the momentum created by last year’s inaugural event.

Smart and creative use of technology is one route to overcoming gender barriers to girls’ learning and achievement. But, innovation in partnerships, policies, resource utilization, community mobilization and, most of all, the engagement of girls and young people, themselves, can be important catalysing forces.

In a new refugee camp in Kurdistan Region of Iraq, a young woman who has had to defer her university education because of the Syrian conflict says, “I tell girls all over the world to study. Education is your ammunition. You can fight your own battles with education.” 

 ERBIL, Iraq, 4 October 2013 – Imagine what it’s like to sit idle all day, with trauma behind you, and uncertainty ahead.

Too many children and young people are playing a waiting game in Baherka refugee camp in northern Iraq, wondering what the future holds.

“I stay in the tent like a housewife,” Silva, 20, says sadly. She has nothing to do, and her days drag.

This was not the life Silva had planned. Before being forced out of her home by the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic, she was flourishing in her second year of university.

For her, the likelihood of continuing her studies in Iraq is remote, because the annual cost of tuition is thousands of dollars a year – far beyond her reach.

“I hope to go back to Syria to finish my university degree,” she says. “I don’t have any chance to study here.”

© UNICEF Iraq/2013/Niles
Liloz's school is educating more than 800 children. They are among more than 5,000 children in Grades 1–9 for whom UNICEF is providing schooling throughout Erbil region.

Silva’s sister Heba, 13, is in the UNICEF-supported school in Baherka camp.

UNICEF is providing schooling for more than 5,000 children in the Erbil region in Grades 1–9. More than 800 children are being educated in Baherka.

The school works in two shifts every day. “It’s very hot,” Heba says. She likes school and hopes to become a doctor.

Silva would like to get a job to help support her family, but she has so far been unsuccessful. So she stays where she is.

The family tent is small. Carpet covers the ground, and thin foam mattresses are stacked high along the walls. A small water jug sits in the corner.

As we sit talking, other girls slip in, taking off their shoes and sitting on the floor, some of them cradling younger children.

Kinda, 16, hasn’t been out of school for long. Despite the conflict, she was studying in the Syrian Arab Republic when her family decided a few weeks ago to escape. In some ways, Kinda is lucky. Her father has a job in Duhok, a city about three hours north of Erbil, but she says there isn’t enough money.

© UNICEF Iraq/2013/Niles
Children celebrate the opening of the UNICEF-supported primary school in Baherka camp. The school operates in two three-hour shifts every day.

She misses small things.

“At home I had a lot of books and music,” she says. “But I couldn’t carry them when I came to Iraq.”

Liloz, 12, has a blue exercise book in which she’s spelled out, in English, numbers from one to twenty. Liloz wants to continue to study English because of a teacher she once knew. “I loved my English teacher. She taught me how to believe in the future.”

Belief in the future seems elusive at the moment. For the younger girls, the question is, what happens when primary school ends?

Education, for Syrians, is the key that opens the door to a full life. What if these girls remain on the wrong side of that door?

“Girls are half of society. I tell girls all over the world to study. Education is your ammunition. You can fight your own battles with education,” Silva says.



UNICEF Photography: Syrian crisis

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