Children in Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul are settling back into classes more than a year after the city was liberated from the so-called Islamic State.
Children across Mosul have been gradually returning to school more than a year after ISIS was ousted from their city. For some children, this is the first time in three years since they have been in regular classes.
Under ISIS’ so-called “caliphate,” many schools were converted into military bases. Instead of attending classes, children were forced to see their schools transformed into weapons of war, with jihadists firing shells and mortars out of the windows of the classrooms.
Even where schools were able to remain open, many children were kept at home by their parents in an attempt to prevent them from being indoctrinated into ISIS’ ideology.
The terror group devised its own curriculum and printed its own textbooks, with an emphasis on religion and an obsession with weapons. The group also created its own division specifically for children, The Cubs of the Caliphate, indoctrinating young people into the militant lifestyle and its violent ways.
“It was all about ammunition, military training and radical ideology,” said Sara Hassan, a mother whose young daughter is preparing to go back to school.
When ISIS’ rule collapsed in 2017, they left their unexploded bombs and weapons behind, frustrating reconstruction efforts in many areas of the city.
The group has had a devastating impact on a generation of children in Mosul. It’s hoped that with education, time and a return to a normal routine, the children will heal from the effects of the extremists’ brutal regime.
But conditions aren’t always easy.
Most of the children have forgotten what it’s like to be in school after three years of war. Teachers struggle to get the children to focus and participate, a result of the trauma of bearing witness to violence.
Zuhair Younais, a headmaster at one of Mosul’s newly reopened primary schools, says everyone is doing their best to help:
“The psychological impact has been huge. We know we must free the children’s minds from all these bad thoughts. We’re offering therapy sessions which have been kindly funded by the government.”
This resilience and determination is typical among Mosul’s residents who remain steadfast in their determination to restore, and reclaim, their city. Communities, governments, the UN and its partners are slowly trying to repair the damage inflicted on the city during the battle to oust ISIS from power.
In the case of Mosul’s schools, much of the rebuilding work has been initiated by volunteers and parents, keen to see their children back in class.
“This was made possible with the contributions of well-wishers in and outside Iraq. It is the result of tireless efforts by Iraqi women to display to the world the agony and devastation in Mosul,” said Esraa Al Samarai, a local volunteer.