In December of 2017, Baghdad officially declared, “Victory over ISIS”, and asked all IDP (internally displaced peoples) within the country to return to their original homelands. As you can imagine there were many families that were less than confident about the “Victory”. Others knew their homes had been completely destroyed, and they would have nothing to return to. While still others knew that some of their relatives or friends had actually fought with ISIS, so their future in southern Iraq would not be a pleasant one. In the end, many wanted to stay in the more secure zone of Northern Iraq and amongst the Kurdish people, but leadership in the government was not going to have it that way. A victory without the return of the Iraqi people to their homes, even if those homes were destroyed, they knew, was not really a victory.
The call went out for all those with government jobs to return whether they wanted to or not. In a country where over 70% of the people are ‘employed’ by the government, this meant most people had to go. Of course, the Baghdad authorities promised money, support, and help to rebuild their homes, but just how long would the families have to wait?
In the end, most all of the Arab families in our region were forced to return.
At the time our refugee school had over 650 students and going strong. Then, almost overnight – like the Exodus of old, over 400 of them were suddenly gone. That caused a big adjustment with the rest of the staff in particular, not to mention all the students that suddenly lost their friends.
We are happy that the Arab families were able to return to their homelands, and we do hope that they are doing well, but whenever a school loses so many students very quickly, there are bound to be questions about the future.
However, students were not the only thing we lost. Baghdad was funding a portion of our budget as an official IDP school under the Ministry of Education in Baghdad (MOE). In order to coerce more Arab families to return, the MOE cut their funding of all of the schools in the Kurdistan region to force them to return.
Once we learned that Baghdad would no longer support or recognize the degrees of our students, we had to completely re-incorporate the school under the MOE of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). An arduous process to say the least, and at mid-term, nearly impossible. However, we couldn’t let the remaining 250 students down.
It was not an easy process, but without skipping a beat, we were able to reopen the school in January under the KRG as the only official Arabic based curriculum in our region.
We are were pleased to be able to continue offering these special kids an education that they would otherwise not be able to have. Because our students are mostly from Syria, and the border regions between Iraq and Syria, all of their education was in Arabic, not Kurdish – the language of our region. So, without us stepping into the gap, they would not be able to enter the Kurdish-based curriculum schools and would be forced to give up their education.
Because of your support, these nearly 250 refugee children will be able to continue to learn in their mother tongue, with the hope that one day they will be able to return to their homeland and continue their studies without skipping a beat.
Thank you for standing with those who are still in such desperate circumstances. Your support is building a future filled with hope and promise for some really special children.