UNICEF Education Officer Iman Abdullah attends a conference on education in emergencies in Erbil, northern Iraq. UNICEF Iraq/2015/Anmar

“I stayed because of my children.”

“I’ve had the opportunity to leave Iraq in the past, but I haven’t taken it,” says UNICEF Education Officer Iman Abdullah. “I stayed because of my children. I wanted to show them that we rise up as a society when we accept others.”

She describes how tens of thousands of Iraqis from Anbar Governorate have streamed into Baghdad.

The Iraqi Government estimates that more than 114,000 people have been displaced from Ramadi, in Anbar Governorate over the past weeks, with a sudden influx on 16 April 2015 sparking international attention. The majority of these people have come to Baghdad.

“It’s so risky for them, and thousands are crossing at one time,” she says describing the pontoon bridge at Bzebze which separates Anbar from Baghdad. “I can’t understand what we need now for food and other resources. This is so bad. Where will they go?”

Iman, a mother of five, is in charge of education across six governorates around Baghdad, including Anbar. The upsurge in violence has made her job more demanding than ever.

“The situation is a mess. We already had a lot of problems; schools are over-burdened and now this has made it worse. Families are begging for schools for their children. They’re not begging for anything else.”

With the support of donors, UNICEF is meeting psychological and material needs. The people of Saudi Arabia and Japan have contributed funds to have schools, which were being used as camps cleaned and rehabilitated. The people of Saudi Arabia also contributed funds to buy tents that are being used as temporary classrooms. This includes 150 tented classrooms in Anbar alone, where catch-up classes for children, many of whom have been out of school since January, will allow them to continue their education.

Psycho social training and support for both teachers and students is being funded by the people of Germany. Teachers are being trained to support students, but firstly they need help themselves.

“They’ve lost everything,” Iman says. “They need somebody to listen to them.”

Iman’s own decision to stay in Iraq could have had fatal consequences. In 2003 a car bomb exploded outside her home, narrowly missing her four-year old daughter.

“She was lying in front of the television and the power went out. So she moved out of the room and right then the windows blew in when the bomb exploded outside,” she said. Iman was hit by flying glass, but the attack merely strengthened her determination to raise her children without regard for sectarianism.

“If you raise children along sectarian lines, what can you expect for the future? We are destroying the mentality of an entire generation.”

And despite the dire situation she now finds herself in, she takes pride in having done her best. “I’m proud of what we’ve done, in spite of all the difficulties. I’ve showed my children there is something worth working to achieve.”

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By Chris Niles

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