Mosul University: From conflict to classroom

A student makes a call in between his exams. Photo: Alex Potter/UNDP Iraq/2017

Mosul, 10 August 2017- After two-and-a-half years of ISIL’s reign, students are returning to university in the newly-liberated city of Mosul.

A child who has accompanied her mother to university stands in a classroom.

Mosul University is abuzz with students. Some line the campus corridors clutching their study notes, whilst others move swiftly from one exam to the next. Mothers try to concentrate whilst their children vie for their attention in the classroom. Students make phone calls to debrief about their exams. Professors sit at their desks, marking papers.

A professor sits at his desk after giving a lecture at Mosul University.

A few years ago, these scenes were unimaginable. The University was anything but a learning sanctuary; it was desolate and lifeless, tarnished by a brutal conflict. The destruction caused by militant group ISIL was visible at every turn. Books, classrooms, libraries and dorms were destroyed.

Damaged buildings and littered grounds at Mosul University.

Through its Funding Facility for Stabilization (FFS), UNDP is working with the Government of Iraq to restore Mosul University. So far, 8 generators have been provided to power the classrooms and dorms, allowing students to continue learning with minimal disruption. Another 43 generators are on the way.

UNDP Resident Representative for Iraq Lise Grande walks through a sports hall being used as a temporary library.

Local cash-for-work teams have been deployed to help clean the grounds and remove debris from various parts of the university, giving participants the opportunity to rebuild their own community, whilst earning an income.

cash-for-work team
Members of a UNDP cash-for-work team clean the entrance to Mosul University’s damaged library.

Salwan (pictured right) has been working on the team for a few months now. He speaks proudly about his role.

“I was sad to see all the damage to the University when I first arrived. But we’re happy to have work, and to be able to help make things better,” says Salwan.

Iraqi students walk outside the University gates after finishing their exams.

In a country where the rate of university-educated women is low, facilities like female dorms play a huge part in helping women complete their journey to graduation. The University’s female dorm was destroyed in the conflict and will be restored under the FFS. It will provide accommodation for 800 women.

When ISIL ruled, discrimination against female students was commonplace. Women were prohibited from studying sciences or engineering and could not participate in physical education or sports. Classrooms were segregated by gender.

women’s faculty
Students in the midst of their exams make their way through the women’s faculty building at Mosul University.

That has now changed. And for twenty-three-year-old Rahma, it’s a huge relief.

Having just completed her final exams in Arabic literature, Rahma — like many of her peers — is grateful to be back after more than two years of missed education.

“Whilst ISIL was here, they only taught courses on terrorism. I didn’t want to attend classes, so we just studied at home,” she says.

Mosul University student Rahma (who requested her face not be shown).

Rahma’s house was destroyed in the conflict, so she moved in with relatives to continue studying. Despite the tumultuous few years she’s had to endure, she is optimistic about her future.

“When I graduate, I want to return to the University to teach, God willing,” says Rahma.

Students write messages of hope for the future on a whiteboard at Mosul University.

It’s no secret that the road to recovery will be long. But the sense of hope that is deeply ingrained in the people of Mosul is sure to make the process a lot less daunting.



Photostory was published at Medium.

Photos: Alex Potter and Lindsay Mackenzie/UNDP Iraq/2017

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