As schools continue to re-open in areas of Iraq formerly occupied by ISIL, ACTED is working to help those children who bore the brunt of the conflict to pick-up their studies where they left off. While the hallways and classrooms to which they return often bear the scars of the war, for many of the children, especially those drafted into armed groups, psychosocial support is crucial for allowing them to reintegrate into their education, so violently punctuated by factors beyond their control.
To this end, ACTED, working in partnership with People in Need, is providing Child Protection and Education in Emergencies support to those affected by the conflict with ISIL in Al-Zab sub-district of Hawija, Kirkuk governorate in Iraq.
*All names in this article have been changed to protect the identities of beneficiaries.
Getting children back to school
Conflict impacts children in many ways. It can mean no access to education and basic services, forced displacement, war-related trauma, material loss, the necessity to support their family financially, and (often as a direct result of this) getting involved with armed groups.
As the return process gathered pace over the course of 2018 following the retreat of ISIL, communities began the first tentative steps towards a return to normality. In March 2018, out of 345 schools in Hawiga, 256 re-opened, providing services to around 25,000 children. The majority of children have missed on average three years of education.
Many of these schools are in dire need of rehabilitation and support: basic water and sanitation facilities no longer function; classrooms include an average of 60-70 students due to displacement and damage done to education infrastructures. In addition, teaching stuff are often made up of community volunteers with limited pedagogical experience.
In response, ACTED and PIN developed a project designed to provide conflict-affected communities in Kirkuk Governorate with education, psychosocial support, awareness raising, and individual case management targeting of the most at-risk girls and boys.
4,000 children in 22 schools in 9 villages in Al-Zab district are taking part in the intervention.
Tackling child labour through 'Back to School' campaigns
The death of relatives in conflict was often a trigger factor in causing a child to drop out of education and pursue work to support his or her family.
ACTED’s Case Management Team came across a number of examples, including one young boy, Ammar, whose father was killed by ISIL, forcing him to leave school to support his mother and four siblings financially by collecting Pepsi cans from the streets and rubbish bins, exchanging them for a small profit.
ACTED provided the boy and his mother with psychosocial support to cope with the traumas they have experienced. Within one month of the commencement of support, Ammar was registered in school, provided with school clothes and stationary, and given extra classes for mathematics and English. ACTED continued to follow up with Ammar’s case in school and at home. As of now, Ammar has stopped working, and has made several new friends. He is active in his life and hopes to become a doctor one day.
How ACTED's support can help to reduce the recruitment of children into armed groups
It is well established that the wide variety of armed groups which emerged during the fight against ISIL regularly boosted their ranks with children. Over the course of this project, ACTED’s Case Management team came provided support to a 13-year-old boy, Yasin, who had dropped out of school to fight for an armed group.
As part of the support package, ACTED provided Yasin and his family with psychosocial support sessions. Staff covered key themes which included Children’s Rights, particularly in relation to the importance of school and education. Staff also clearly outlined the risks of involvement in armed groups, and all the negative impacts this can have on a child’s safety, education and broader development.
Yasin soon agreed to register in school and ceased his involvement in the armed group. ACTED continued to support him through the provision of school clothes, stationary, non-food items, and through tutoring in classes the boy enjoys such as geography, mathematics, English and science. He soon began to eagerly pursue his educational interests.
Psychosocial support proves its transformative potential
In the Zab province of Kirkuk, ACTED received a case of a girl, Aleigha, who at the age of seven was diagnosed with a disease resulting in a severe hair loss. Due to the trauma from the war and the loss of her hair, she suffered from depression and felt isolated from her siblings and friends.
ACTED monitored the situation and evaluated the case, providing Aleigha with psychosocial services and paying for the treatment for her hair, which was entirely successful. Aleigha was then able to restore her self-confidence and increase her quality of life following the intervention of ACTED team.