Mosul’s school­girls aim to catch up on lost years

‘Un­der IS, we had 27 pupils. Now they num­ber 650’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

De­spite hav­ing fallen three years be­hind their peers else­where in Iraq, it’s been mostly smiles all around for the girls at Mosul’s Trablus school since it re­opened its dam­aged gates af­ter the ji­hadists fled. With a blast from her whis­tle to sig­nal the end of re­cess, a su­per­vi­sor in a black robe and white head­scarf called the teenage girls back to class, dur­ing a re­cent visit to the school.

The girls chat­ted all the way back to the class­rooms, each packed with an av­er­age of 90 pupils. In late May, the school be­came the first to re­open in western Mosul, as Iraqi forces pressed a sec­tor-by-sec­tor cam­paign that would fi­nally this month ex­pel the Is­lamic State group from the whole of the coun­try’s sec­ond city.

Sev­eral other schools have fol­lowed suit. Un­der IS, “we had 27 pupils. Now they num­ber 650,” said Ni­had Jassem, an ad­min­is­tra­tive em­ployee at the school in the Mosul al-Ja­dida dis­trict. Its shrap­nel-scarred metal gates have been cov­ered with sheets and blan­kets, shat­tered win­dows let in the rag­ing sum­mer heat, the walls are cracked, wa­ter and elec­tric­ity were only re­stored on Wed­nes­day, the teach­ers have not been paid, and the school has a se­vere short­age of books-”But we’re happy!” in­sisted Jassem.

Af­ter three years un­der IS rule, “we want to de­velop, we want to be civ­i­lized again. These girls have a fresh chance,” she said. “Their fu­ture was about to be de­stroyed for­ever.” At the next re­cess, the girls, aged be­tween 13 and 15, go back to chat­ting and gig­gling in the cor­ri­dors or out­side in rare spa­ces in the shade. They all sport head­scarves, at times with a broach or bow at­tached, some wearing makeup and a small num­ber in the niqab full-face veil. “We cater to ev­ery­one here,” Jassem said. “We have a mis­sion. I want them (the girls) to suc­ceed,” said Iman Yussef, a teacher of 26 years stand­ing, 10 of them at Trablus school.

‘Wound that hasn’t healed’

Un­der IS rule, teach­ers were forced to show up or face ar­rest by its re­li­gious po­lice. “Many just ran away but those with nowhere to go had to come,” she said. Bi­ol­ogy, his­tory, ge­og­ra­phy and sci­ences were scrapped from the cur­ricu­lum, leav­ing only stud­ies on Is­lam, and the Ara­bic and English lan­guages.

“We don’t talk about those times any more. It’s like a wound that hasn’t healed, so we don’t touch it,” said Shada Sham­maa, who teaches Ara­bic at the school. “In any case, we are not to­tally rid of IS. Some of the girls may have fam­ily mem­bers in IS.” Be­hind the stream of smiles around the school, fear and sor­row some­times come to the sur­face.

“We’re all happy but our hap­pi­ness is not com­plete be­cause we’ve all lost some­one. A friend of mine was killed to­gether with her fam­ily a few days ago in the Old City,” the last sec­tor of Mosul re­cap­tured ear­lier this month, said 15-year-old Seema Faris. A school­mate, Nur Kheiri, chipped in: “The other day some­one ap­par­ently wanted to carry out a sui­cide at­tack on a school but was stopped in time. The govern­ment should send in sol­diers to pro­tect us.”

On the aca­demic front, the pri­or­ity for pupils aim­ing to be­come pro­fes­sion­als one day is to catch up with their peers, as the Iraqi govern­ment has said it does not rec­og­nize school­ing un­der IS, which seized con­trol of Mosul in 2014. In the race to catch up, schools in western Mosul, which was re­taken months af­ter the eastern sec­tor, are op­er­at­ing in the sum­mer­time, with hol­i­days can­celled this year.

“We only have 40 days left be­fore the ex­ams and we’ve only cov­ered half of the book,” com­plained Shams Ma­her. “It’s very crowded and the heat is un­bear­able, but we don’t care. What we want is books,” said her friend Kheiri, with a cheeky smile on her face. “My fa­vorite sub­ject is chem­istry be­cause that’s the only book avail­able.” —AFP

MOSUL: Iraqi girls at­tend a class at a school in west Mosul. — AFP

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