Fostering friendships across cultures

Girls practice a traditional dance together at the community centre in Basirma. © UNICEF/Iraq/2016/Anmar

“We should love each other regardless of our religion,” says Sarwan, 13.

A tiny village tucked away in the rolling hills of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, Basirma has as many goats as there are cars in its narrow winding streets.

A camp that is home to nearly four thousand Syrian refugees sprawls across the fields close to the village. In addition to the refugee camp, the village also hosts hundreds of Iraqis displaced by violence in Anbar and Fallujah.

Dressed in traditional clothing, Sarwan strolls around the community centre in Basirma, a small concrete building that has become the heart of the community.

“Today is a very different experience for me,” she says, as she walks around looking at the arts and crafts on display.

Art created by children as part of the peace education programme. © UNICEF/Iraq/2016/Anmar

As the conflict in Syria enters its sixth year, and the number of displaced people within Iraq rises above 3.3 million, a major priority of UNICEF and its partners is to foster peace education and understanding between local communities, refugees and displaced families. Peace education takes place when children’s educational and recreation experiences are framed to help them bond and develop a sense of community and social justice.

Thanks to a generous contribution from the People of Japan, UNICEF implementing partner Terre des Hommes runs a peace education programme in the Basirma community centre. Here children from different backgrounds and religions meet, make friends and share their cultures with one another.

Essam, 13, displaced from Falluja, regularly takes part in activities at the community centre. “I feel I’m with my family here,” he said.

Activities that foster interaction and social bonding take place almost every day, and range from games, art, and sport to environmental activities such as planting trees and cleaning up the village streets. The programme also supports a media unit, which makes and screens films that the families can attend together. It’s become a place where children, no matter what their background, can feel safe.

“It was a very nice day,” said Maryam, 13, “I liked it that everybody was happy.”

“All children need events like this one today,” said Duhha, 12, a young girl displaced from Falluja, “We need it so we can forget the war.”

Chris Niles is a Consultant with UNICEF Iraq.

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