A large group of Iraqi teachers have gathered in the Sports Hall of the University of Mosul in order to attend a workshop on an issue that has become evermore pressing since the city was liberated from ISIS militants: The psychological well-being of the city’s children.
The three-year war against ISIS has scarred nearly every Iraqi child caught under the group’s grip or in the ensuing battles to liberate Iraqi land from the militant group. Many of the teachers gathered here in the campus report similar symptoms of psychological damage such as trouble returning to school, nightmares, violent behaviour.
Children from West Mosul seem to be particularly vulnerable to such problems. It is not surprising. It was in West Mosul that ISIS’ grip was the strongest. Furthermore, the battle to liberate the city is being described as being the most violent urban battle since World War II. Many of these children have experienced siege, bombardment, loss of parents and militant atrocities.
The workshop therefore aims to train the teachers on not only dealing with such traumatised children in the most humane and effective manner but also provide them guidance on helping these children gradually recover from their trauma.
Such an undertaking would be a difficult task under the best of circumstances. And the situation here in Mosul is anything but. The city continues to bear the scars of the battle, serving as a constant reminder of the troubled times. Furthermore, mass displacement and the destruction of schools have forced many of the remaining schools to take students well past their capacity. The Arbajieh School, for instance, has classes where as many as 100 children are crammed into a single room. The teachers here are doing their best to help all children, but it is difficult work.
Despite these difficulties, the fact that the importance of mental health and psychological well-being is being recognised is a positive step. Outdated and often nonconstructive views on mental health are, unfortunately, common in Iraq as well as the wider Middle East. Since the liberation of Mosul, there have been a number of ill-informed opinions both inside and outside Iraq who claimed that these children who experienced horrors under ISIS out of no choice of their own were “beyond saving”. The workshops here are an encouraging sign that the Iraqi teachers, who are best positioned to know about the reality of the situation, put no stock to such worthless opinions.