“This really changed my life”

Girls and boys attend catch-up classes in southern Iraq. © UNICEF Iraq/2016/Mohammed

After his father was killed in conflict in Mosul, Ahmed, 12, found himself the sole supporter of his mother and six sisters.

Driven from their home, the family used the last of their money making the arduous journey from Mosul to Missan Governorate, in southern Iraq, on foot, crossing many miles of desert.

When they arrived in Missan they had nowhere to stay, so they sheltered in a partially-constructed school building and Ahmed began working at the local market.

He realized that this would end his chances to further his education, but the young boy, forced to assume the responsibilities of an adult, had no choice.

“I gave up all hope of continuing my education,” he said.

This changed when UNICEF established Amerli School for displaced children in Missan and Ahmed was able to return to school.

A cartoon character promotes catch-up classes in Muthanna Governorate. © UNICEF Iraq/2016/Mohammed

However because of his other family responsibilities, he found the demands of the classroom difficult.

“Unfortunately due to the hard work I do every day I could not attend all my classes,” he says. “I failed at maths and English and I thought I’d have to repeat my sixth grade.”

Help came in the form a set of UNICEF-supported summer catch-up classes for children like Ahmed. In June and July he was in the classroom, studying hard.

“I balanced my daily work and my studies and I’m very happy that I passed both subjects — I got 65 per cent in maths and 71 per cent in English!” he says proudly.

A beaming Ahmed receives the successful results of his sixth grade exams. © UNICEF Iraq/2016/Qurdar

It was a beautiful day in Rumaitha in Muthanna Governorate when Mohsen, 12, woke up early, got dressed, ate his breakfast and prepared to take his exams. His schoolbooks lay by his bed.

Then his mother received a phone call with the terrible news that her husband had been hit by a speeding car and was in critical condition in hospital.

Rushing to his father’s side, Mohsen put all thoughts of exams out of his head. He remained at the hospital for several days, not knowing whether his father would live or die.

Eventually he received the good news that his father would recover, but Mohsen remained disappointed that he had not been able to take his school exams.

Then Hadi, the principal of Al-Jawahri School, visited his home.

“I found him in the utmost sorrow and told him that the sadness would fade because UNICEF had set up free lessons during the holiday for 30 days and would provide all the necessary school supplies,” Hadi says.

Thousands of children got a second chance thanks to catch-up classes in southern Iraq. © UNICEF Iraq/2016/Mohammed

Like other young Iraqis, Ahmed and Mohsen cling to education as the hope that the future will be brighter than the present. With a generous contribution from the German Development Bank (KfW), UNICEF supported more than 11,300 children from both displaced and local communities in southern Iraq to complete catch-up classes this year and re-take grade six exams in English, maths and science.

“I cannot express my thanks and the thanks of my family to UNICEF,” said Mohsen, who passed his second round of exams with high marks. “My father came with a broken leg to thank the principal and he carried greetings and gratitude to UNICEF for helping students, especially the poor who cannot afford to pay the wages of tutoring.”

“This really changed my life,” Ahmed says. “I have a message for UNICEF: ‘Within this darkness of life that we displaced people are living, we see a hopeful light at the end because of you. Thank you.’”

UNICEF Iraq Education Specialist Eaada Albalaway spoke to UNICEF Consultant Chris Niles. UNICEF facilitators Murtadha Qurdar and Raad Mohammed also contributed to this report.

For direct donations to UNICEF in Iraq: http://support.unicef.org/campaign/donate-children-iraq

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