In Mosul, schools can save children's lives

By Paul St. John Frisoli, Refugees Deeply  |  March 13, 2017 at 8:34 AM
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March 13 (UPI) -- Iraqi children displaced from or living in Mosul have had their lives disrupted and threatened, have been forced to flee their homes or have returned to a land littered with unexploded devices. And they want to go to school.

Education is frequently one of the top three things parents and children ask for in emergencies, and the situation in Mosul is no different.

"My dream is for my children to be educated – to get certificates and have a future," one father displaced from Mosul recently told the International Rescue Committee team in Iraq. "I want them to benefit the community and themselves. And to be successful people in life."

More than 200,000 people from Mosul have been displaced by the military operation to retake the city from the Islamic State since October. Around half of those displaced are children in need of an education.

Many now live in unstable areas. More than 500,000 people are living in neighborhoods of Mosul that have recently been retaken by the military – areas that face food shortages and lack safe drinking water, health facilities and power.

Most alarmingly, villages where children are living on the outskirts of Mosul are still at risk from mines and other explosive devices. Improvised explosive devices and booby traps left behind by IS are designed to cause extreme harm; booby traps are crafted in everyday items, such as children's toys, and are sensitive enough to be set off by a small child's hand.

Children are one of the least-served vulnerable groups in humanitarian response. For children in Iraq's internally displaced person camps, over 27,000 remain without education services. In and around Mosul, while more than 70 schools have reopened, many children have missed out on at least two years of schooling and have experienced high levels of psychosocial distress, heavily impacting their learning.

Education is not always recognized for its relevance in emergency response, as evidenced by its chronic underfunding – in recent years it has received less than 2 percent of all humanitarian funding – but it is a vital part of humanitarian response. For Iraqi children, education is not a luxury that can wait until other survival needs are met – it can save their lives.

IRC staff deployed into recently retaken villages and displacement camps around Mosul have observed high rates of distress among children and families. Education can help children cope with the consequences of conflict by providing a secure, predictable and nurturing environment. Having access to education offers children hope for and a sense of control over their future during crisis.

Education protects children from violence, abuse and exploitation, to which they are vulnerable during crisis, including child labor, recruitment into armed forces and sexual violence. And quality programs can build children's resilience and help them persevere and thrive socially, emotionally and academically.

In the case of Mosul, education can also go a step further and provide the school personnel, teachers, students and even parents with crucial life-saving information related to mine awareness. This is something that is currently taking place at the grass-roots level in some select newly retaken locations. Schools can therefore become the nexus of safety awareness for an entire community.

So what do we need in order to ensure that children in and around Mosul have access to safe, quality education and can reach their full potential? To start, we need adequate funding. So far in Mosul, a mere 38 percent of the education response has been funded.

Once funding is committed, we must ensure that children are actually attending schools, and that they are safe, learning and thriving. The international community needs to conduct rapid education assessments to better understand if and how schools are functioning, and what support school communities need in newly retaken areas. Assessments must ensure that school buildings adhere to minimum safety standards.

We must also work with grass-roots explosive-awareness initiatives in order to create safe, protective and viable trajectories for children to get to and from school in newly retaken areas.

Lastly, we must ensure coordination between different groups working on education in emergencies, so that education services are responsive to children's needs. Programs are needed for teachers, children and parents to build upon their innate resilience and recover from the impacts of extreme adversities and toxic stress. An education response that focuses on Iraqi children's physical, mental, social and emotional safety needs to be prioritized. Education actors need to coordinate, not create parallel interventions that oftentimes compete with one another.

We need multiple voices to mobilize national and international action to provide children from Mosul with a proper education. Focusing on education in newly retaken communities can help children recover from the severe adversities of IS occupation and displacement. It may also save their lives.

Paul St. John Frisoli is senior education technical adviser, Middle East region, for the International Rescue Committee. This article originally appeared on Refugees Deeply, and you can find the original here. For important news about the global migration crisis, you can sign up to the Refugees Deeply email list.

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