The kindergarten school in Alqosh sits along a steep hillside between the picturesque mountains of northern Iraq. Visit the school on a sunny morning and the views from the backyard are filled with panoramic views of mountains and deep blue skies. It was not long before this that the school was left damaged by a rocket attack during the ISIL invasion in 2014. Even though ISIL came close to invading Alqosh, they failed to take the region.
While the damage disrupted classes, it created an uncertain environment for the students and teachers alike. As 58-year-old Nasal Yousif Baho, one of the school's teachers, explains, "I treat my students like they are my children. During ISIL, we were worried about their safety. For the children to experience such a violent and volatile situation at such an early age can be very traumatic for them." Nasal moved to Dohuk along with her children during the war. "We left the town and moved to Dohuk in search of a safer and more stable environment for my family."
On returning to Alqosh in 2017, Nasal and the other teachers came home to damaged classrooms with disrupted power and water supply. They decided to come together and set up a temporary school within their local youth centre. The teachers were not just back home but also back in familiar surroundings as they had known each other since childhood. Epitisam Michael Yousif, a 57-year-old kindergarten teacher who works with Nasal, adds, "We have known each other since childhood. There is so much trust and comfort when it comes to working together. So, it was only natural for us to pick up from where we left off."
The teachers at Alqosh kindergarten school strongly believe in creating a nurturing and positive environment. "The children have endured a lot of trauma during the war. We want to create a healthy and safe environment when they come to school. They should be able to talk about their concerns, fears and challenges with us," says 40-year-old Silva Andrew Hana, who is also a teacher at the school.
Silvia, Epitisam and Nasal describe how they would take time aside to research activities for children that would promote peaceful reconciliation. They were also motivated by the strong belief in preserving the religious and ethnic diversity of Alqosh. "We want to reassure our children that this is a safe space and that everything will be better," Silvia says.
In 2020, the kindergarten school was rehabilitated with support from UNDP's Funding Facility for Stabilization. This comes as a welcome addition to the community as they are trying to recover from the uncertain times brought by the war and the recent COVID-19 outbreak. The school serves over 300 pre-school children from 42 villages and focuses on preparing students to enter the formal education system.
Due to COVID-19 safety measures adopted by the Government of Iraq, kindergarten schools remain closed. As a result, the children are yet to experience the campus and the new facilities it provides.
37-year-old Reem Farah Patrons, the school principal, says, "As teachers, our favorite spot in the school is the staff room and the assembly ground. We cannot wait for the students to experience the new building, along with the beautiful playground in the back."
The teachers in Alqosh do an incredible job of creating healthy and nurturing learning environment for the students. They ask for more training opportunities to better serve the children, ensuring equitable and inclusive education for all. "At the end of the day, if we have positively impacted the lives of our children, we can say we have been successful. We are also aware that the healing process takes times, and we will keep pushing ourselves to provide for them," concludes Reem as she goes back to her meeting with the teachers.