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By Claire Evans

01/04/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The start of a new year traditionally marks new beginnings, new hopes, new dreams. For Iraq’s Christians, this year marks the first time since 2014 that their homeland is free from the terrors of ISIS. For the last four years, hundreds of thousands of Christians were displaced from their homes, a consequence with far-reaching implications.

Displacement embodies the spirit of disruption and severance. When families packed their belongings or simply fled from their homes empty-handed, it was the children who left behind their futures. For some, displacement meant that their education would be interrupted during the duration of the families’ exodus from home. For others, a completed education would forever become an impossibility.

The loss of territory by ISIS last year ran parallel to families who began at long last returning home to the Nineveh Plains, although many chose to remain in displacement camps because they no longer had a home worth returning to. Even so, it meant that many families once again began thinking about their children’s education.

Ibrahim, a Christian who returned to Qaraqosh this past August, wants his son to return to school. However, the instability of the last four years makes him question whether it is safe for his family in the Nineveh Plains. He said, “We heard that three IDP (internally displaced persons) schools reopened [their] doors for students in Erbil. We will be back to Erbil if we have a chance to get free accommodation because we are not safe here. Qaraqosh is not isolated well from the surrounding villages because Qaraqosh needs them for its economy.”

He continued, “I am not sending my children to school… we may go back to Erbil. My son, who is 8 years old, is smart enough to pass the 2nd stage even if he started going to school after mid-year.”

Questions about the long-term safety and stability of Qaraqosh are not the only reasons why children are not being educated. Akram is the father of three children, two in primary school and his oldest daughter in secondary. He said, “I am sending my children to school, but they are suffering because the school doesn’t have a curriculum, especially the primary school. The teachers told the students to get the curriculums from any other school and to make copies for themselves because the school doesn’t have curriculums to distribute.”

It is not just curriculum that the schools are lacking. Akram added, “My eldest daughter told me that ‘it’s the same whether I go to school or not,’ [after all] the whole school has just two teachers and the principal… I knew later that the school is only teaching art and sport classes.”

Transportation to and from the school also presents difficulties for Akram’s family. Like Ibrahim’s family, his too has discussed whether it would be better for them to return to Erbil.

But relocating back to Erbil won’t necessarily bring with it educational opportunities. Karem is 17 years old, the oldest brother in his family. His father is disabled, and his family left to Erbil from Qaraqosh in 2014 after terrorists attacked their village. Though they have suffered great poverty in Erbil, Karem is committed to continuing his education in any circumstance.

He recalled, “During the past three years, I was able to join school in Erbil from the first educational season. It was hard at the beginning because of the curriculum’s difference, but later the IDP schools facilitated these difficulties.”

In Iraq, a student’s acceptance to college depends on their marks in the 12th grade. Consequently, anyone who wants to attend a good college not only needs to be committed to study, but also should join extra, private classes. This is something which comes at a great cost, and is often unreachable for poor families.

Such was the case with Karem. He said, “I couldn’t join private classes because of its high cost. I could hardly do it with chemistry because it’s very difficult for me to understand the curriculum in my school when 45 students attend the class. Teachers come to school twice a week because they have not been paid by the government for four months, so most of the time we are free at school.”

Despite these difficulties, Karem has remained determined to further his education. “Many graduated people used to help me in previous class. Also, people from churches are helping on this. Engineers teach me physics, doctors teach me science, etc. Besides that, I am gathering the information from my friends whenever I have a chance. You know there is a challenge at this stage [where] everyone tries to keep any information for himself. My biggest challenge since displacement is to find a quiet room to study.”

Karem’s hunger for education is driven by having seen the consequences of displacement on his own peers. He concluded, “Many IDPs my age left school to join work. I see that they are getting paid as workers that which is not worthwhile and sustainable.”

Despite his young age, Karem’s observation hints at deeply profound consequences of the effect displacement has had on the younger generation: a disrupted and impoverished education can affect a community for decades. This leaves Iraq’s Christians wondering, if education is absent, what kind of future is in store for their children?