Painting for pupils: Beautifying Mosul’s schools

Manal (left) paints a message of peace outside Al Taliea Al’uwlaa School for Girls

Mother-of-five Samia, 37 is stationed at Al Mansour Primary School for Boys, repairing old desks for its students as part of a UNDP Cash-for-Work program. Her husband was injured in an explosion in 2004 and now suffers from a disability, leaving Samia as the main breadwinner.

She stands among a group of six women, all shrouded in their protective gear of high-visibility vests and masks. They are hard at work: drilling, welding, sanding and painting, and contributing to the repair of almost 25,000 desks across the city.

Samia is a natural. “It’s not the first time I’ve picked up a power tool,” she says, laughing. “Because of my husband’s situation, I’m used to doing jobs around the house, so this work is easy for me.

Samia repairs a desk at Al Mansour Primary School for Boys

The income she earns is critical for her family — she plans to spend it on alleviating the USD 1,500 of debt she accumulated when ISIL took control of Mosul as she was unable to work during this time.

She is passionate about her job and it shows.

“I love working for the children — I feel they are my own. And I like bringing joy and colour to their lives,” she says.

Children at Al Mansour Primary School for Boys sit at their refurbished desks

For Samia — and for many women working in UNDP’s Cash-for-Work program — working inside buildings like schools and hospitals puts them at ease. They are seen safe spaces where women feel empowered.

“Working inside a school makes me comfortable. We don’t feel intimated here,” she says. “The school is like a home. We work our hardest to ensure we do a good job and keep it clean. We take a lot of pride in our work.”

Educational murals adorn the walls at Al Taliea Al’uwlaa School for Girls

Meanwhile at Al Taliea Al’uwlaa School for Girls, Manal, a 22-year-old graduate from Mosul’s Institute of Fine Arts stands outside the school, painting a message of peace on the entrance wall: “We are all Iraq.”

She’s one of 50 graduates from fine arts institutions across Mosul (including Mosul University’s College of Fine Arts) that have been employed to paint the murals.

Inside the school, more walls are adorned with vibrant artworks — again with important messages like the need to take care of the environment and how to deal with explosive hazards.

Manal sits in a classroom at Al Taliea Al’uwlaa School for Girls

Like many others her age, Manal was forced to leave her studies when ISIL took control of Mosul and was home bound for nearly three years. While she kept herself busy learning crochet, writing poetry and looking after her sick grandfather, she longed to continue painting and sculpting. “It was hard,” she laments. “I felt imprisoned.”

Three years later, she was able to return to her passion — and get paid for it. “I love colours — I love working on anything related to colours,” she says.

“Art is my passion, so I was really happy to hear about this job opportunity. It’s the first job that I’ve had related to my field of study, so it’s really important to me.”

A Cash-for-Work employee takes a break from repairing desks at Al Mansour School for Boys

With no children or family obligations, she will use the income she earns just like any other 22-year-old: on buying clothes and hanging out with her friends.

Manal is ambitious and already has plans to build her art career and put local female artists on the map. “I’d like to get a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts at Mosul University. And in the meantime, I am currently working on a little project, developing an art exhibition with some of my friends. It’ll have paintings, drawing, sculptures and other forms of art, for everyone to enjoy.”

A group of women repair desks at Al Taliea Al’uwlaa School for Girls

This project is administered through UNDP’s Funding Facility for Stabilization and financed by Germany’s Ministry for Economic Cooperation through KfW.

Photos: UNDP Iraq/Claire Thomas

About UNDP’s stabilization work

At the request of the Government of Iraq, UNDP established the Funding Facility for Stabilization (FFS) in June 2015 to facilitate the return of displaced Iraqis, lay the groundwork for reconstruction and recovery, and safeguard against the resurgence of violence and extremism.

FFS currently has more than 3,000 stabilization projects in the 31 liberated towns and districts that UNDP has been asked to work, helping local authorities to quickly rehabilitate essential infrastructure and services.

البرنامج الإنمائي

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‏‏شعوب متمكنة، أمم صامدة -الحساب الرسمي لبرنامج الأمم المتحدة الإنمائي في المنطقة العربية. UNDP official account in the Arab States

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