Tuesday, April 18, 2017

After Years Under ISIS, Iraqi Girls back at school in Mosul, Iraq



The 13-year-old is back at her old school in the eastern part of the city, which Iraqi forces recaptured from the Sunni Muslim militants in January. Within earshot, fighting is still raging. Just across the River Tigris, government troops, artillery and aircraft are attacking Islamic State's last stronghold in the Old City in western Mosul. But with the first new textbooks having arrived last week, teachers are wasting no time restarting classes. The girls have years of catching-up to do: most of them stopped going to school after the militants overran Mosul in June 2014.

"We want to learn, we do not want to be ignorant," said Manar, assembling in the courtyard with other girls before classes. The militants had forced the teachers to continue working but most parents pulled out their children, fearing they would be brainwashed with an extreme version of Sunni Islam.

"They were bad. They used to teach us about jihad (holy war), how to fight," Manar said, wearing the school uniform with a white veil. "Our families prevented us from coming to school." With little interest in girls' education, the militants quickly gave up, closing the school but not destroying it as they did with other public buildings.

They searched the library and teachers' rooms, stripping them of valuables and removing books they disapproved of. A room full of Arabic-language teaching books survived - the militants had tried to shoot open the lock but gave up. In another room are new books on subjects like English and Biology that were halted by IS, also commonly known by the Arabic acronym Daesh.

The pupils are keen, but the biggest challenge is that the 150 girls enrolled at the school have different knowledge levels after missing almost three years of education. With Islamic State just gone and the frontline a few blocks away, some teachers asked not to be named, unsure what the future may bring.

"Pupils stopped coming because the curricula were hateful and the methods they (militants) used were very cruel and tough," said one teacher who withheld her name. "God willing, we will help them overcome the difficult circumstances that they had lived through and forget what they have lived through, and help them forget Daesh's terrorist ideology, cruelty and killings. God willing, we will try to help the children and the pupils forget the suffering they had experienced," she continued to say. The teachers all work for free as the government has not yet resumed paying salaries.

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