For the young girls of Baqubah, the capital city of Diyala in Iraq, they now have a new campus to learn, write, read and have fun.
Years of conflict have disrupted schooling and education for many students in Diyala due to damaged classrooms and campuses. This caused a shortage of space and infrastructure that resulted in overcrowded classrooms.
Today, the students of Diyala have a newly constructed school building with adequate water and sanitation facilities.
Qiyda Kambesh School in Baqubha that is currently being used as a secondary school for girls completed rehabilitation in February 2020. The new school building includes 12 classrooms, one teachers' room, a science laboratory and adequate sanitation facilities.
For 16-year-old Sab'a Mohammad Shawkat, a student of Qiyda Kambesh school, the rehabilitation of the school building brings excitement and newfound confidence. "Our new school campus is of better quality as compared to the temporary school that was cramped and crowded. I hope to see more schools constructed like this one," Sab'a says.
The school's opening comes at an important time for the young students in Baqubah, as they are now returning to the classroom post the COVID-19 lockdown. Before this, the students and teachers were shifted to a temporary facility within another school building, that was overcrowded, poorly maintained and lacked adequate facilities. With the new physical distancing and rotational measures, the additional space that the 12 classrooms provide has reduced the overcrowding in other schools.
17-year-old science student Rusul Ayad Raheem shares, "When our school was damaged during the fighting, we shifted to al-Amal high school which was cramped and crowded. We did not have adequate sanitation facilities. Today, I feel more motivated to study especially with the clean and quality sanitation facilities that have been provided to us."
Among the precautions put in place by the Ministry of Education are routine handwashing and the wearing of masks by teachers and children. The school administration has also taken additional measures to limit the number of students per classroom.
Ensuring better-quality facilities have a favourable impact on student's outlooks. The school can serve 900 students but is currently serving around 450 students due to COVID-19 social distancing and rotational measures.
The neighborhood's response to the school has been extremely positive, bringing together students, teachers, parents and the community. "We are proud to have this new campus as it benefits our children and teachers alike," says Yousra Khalid Abed, a 47-year-old chemistry teacher. This reflects the views of many parents and teachers while recognizing the importance of building back schools that were destroyed during the ISIL conflict.
Engaging with local communities
In Iraq, UNDP has approached stabilization efforts by engaging with the local communities, in partnership with local businesses, allowing them to rebuild their community, whilst earning an income. The school was built channelling local businesses and staff.
"Working as together as a community, we have overcome some of the challenges that we faced. I thank the dedication and commitment shown by all the engineers who build back our school. We are still to fully-equip the school, and that will be possible if parents and teachers from the neighbourhood unite to contribute," shares Ahlam Jalil Mahdi, Principal of Qiyda Kambesh School.
The rehabilitation of Qiyda Kambesh school was implemented through UNDP's Iraq Crisis Response and Resilience Programme with support from Germany. To date, 19 schools have been rehabilitated in Diyala.
Having experienced years of instability and disruption, establishing these new spaces for learning sends a strong message of hope to students and teachers alike – to learn and dream big.