Zena Khalid, 13, is enjoying a novelty — being back at her newly-renovated school in Mosul, Iraq.
The Al-Haj Secondary School for Girls is open again after being closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been a challenging time for the girls and their teachers as they coped with continuing their learning and the lack of social interaction. Zena has missed her friends and her teachers and is excited to be back.
“Studying remotely was difficult to understand. Now that we are back at school, I can ask questions and understand my subjects better,” she says.
An entire generation of young Iraqi students such as Zena in saw their schools close due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to that, the school was severely damaged during the ISIL conflict. It’s one of several hundred schools that have been rebuilt and renovated with support from UNDP’s Funding Facility for Stabilization.
Students and teachers at Al-Haj Younis are adapting to the new COVID-19 safety measures. Teachers ensure they are wearing masks throughout the day, while also dedicating time to sharing information about COVID-19. To ensure social distancing schools are only open for a few hours every day.
This poses new challenges for teachers as they are required to deliver lessons in a shorter time. “One class a week is not enough for the girls to grasp the concepts thoroughly. At times, we need to shorten the lessons,” says Eman Ali Kurgi, who teaches Arabic.
Despite the challenges, Eman is glad to be back in teaching in person. “Spending my days without meeting my students felt like an integral part of me was missing. The bond we share between students and teachers is like family”.
Al-Watan principal, Sana’a Abdulrazaq Abdullah has lived in Mosul all her life. She witnessed her beloved school being destroyed during the ISIL conflict, which affected her more than damage to her own home. “Mosul is a city of culture and knowledge. We were left devastated when we lost so much infrastructure,” she says.
Because many students are struggling financially due to the pandemic, Sana’a bought them masks and sanitizers. “Every day, before and after school hours, we sanitize the campus thoroughly. I am aware of the economic situation of our students, so we even bought masks for those who could not afford it,” she says.
The school has over 190 students, a fraction of what used to be before the conflict. Due to the change in location and limited space in the temporary facility, many students dropped out. “I want to provide internet and electricity services inside the school. Especially to those that cannot attend, I want to take my lessons online and reach them,” Sana’a says.
Batool Talal Hamad, and the other teachers at Al-Watan Primary School for Girls had to move to smaller quarters after their school was destroyed. “We were all cramped together in a small facility that was run down. It was not easy to work, especially during the winter and rainy season. We are happy to back at school,” she says. ‘I want my students to dream big.”
Also happy to be back in the classroom is Aisha Ammar Mohammad Khalifa, who at nine year old already knows she wants to be a doctor. She found being away from the school difficult as she missed raising her hand in class to answer the teacher’s questions. “I must be physically present in the classroom, so I can talk to my friends and share my thoughts with my teachers,” she says.
Nour Nour al-Huda Mohammad, 12, is a classmate of Aisha’s. Seated quietly with her mask on, bent over her books, she loves going to school, and her mathematics classes in particular.
Nour wants to become a journalist one day. “I want to write stories for people in Iraq to read and be informed,” she says.
The rehabilitation of Al-Haj Younis Secondary School and Al-Watan Primary School was supported by the United Kingdom and the United States Agency for International Development.
UNDP continues to rehabilitate educational facilities through its Funding Facility for Stabilization, including kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, technical institutes, and university buildings. In Mosul alone, 163 schools have been rehabilitated and 34 are in the process of being restored. Some 1,009 schools have been completed, with another 375 more institutions in the pipeline.
The initiative is reviving the hopes of young women and girls such as Zena who can now dream again; and Zena has no doubt about her future career.
“I want to be an engineer. I want other young girls like me in Iraq to start studying again. Education will help us build a future.”
Story:UNDP Iraq; Photos: UNDP Iraq/Moyasser Nasseer