By Chris Niles
When the first day of school arrives for Syrian children in the new Arbat refugee camp in northern Iraq, they are greeted by youth from the local community who have been working hard to make sure the school year starts right.
SULAYMANIYAH, Iraq, 17 September 2013 – It’s over 40 °C in the new Arbat refugee camp in northern Iraq. But, the heat hasn’t stopped dozens of young Syrian refugee children from lining up for something they’ve been eagerly looking forward to – the first day of school.
Meanwhile, dozens of other young people are on their way to the camp in minibuses. They’re students from the Classical School of the Medes in Sulaymaniyah. For the past several weeks, they’ve worked hard to ensure that the refugee children have all the equipment they need to start the school year off right.
Support from youth of Sulaymaniyah
Through bake sales and other community events, these youth have raised enough money to buy everything from school uniforms, books and backpacks to toothpaste and soap.
Once they arrive at the camp, the students unload the buses and start distributing supplies. There are books, cheerfully coloured backpacks, pens and drawing paper. The students also give out juice, milk and water.
Among them is Sahar Mohammed, 17, who is a senior in secondary school. She plans to become a nutritionist so that she can help children live healthier lives.
“We’re talking to the kids, interacting with them, asking them about what they like. Most of the kids said that they like school [and] they want to become helpful in their community,” Sahar says. “So it’s been a good experience.”
The older students help the younger children to decorate a banner that reads ‘Welcome Back to School’. Sitting on carpets, children make hand prints in paint.
Important day for children
UNICEF staff at the camp also celebrate this important day for children.
“I’m really proud to see the young generation of students from the school in Sulaymaniyah supporting these young kids to bring them back to school. You can see all the smiles on their faces,” says UNICEF Supply Officer Thawra Al Jaff.
It’s a particularly meaningful day for Ms. Al Jaff, who is from Sulaymaniyah. She is on mission from UNICEF’s Supply Division in Copenhagen, Denmark, to support UNICEF’s emergency response to the more than 50,000 Syrian refugees who have arrived in the Kurdistan region of Iraq in the past month.
Thousands of these refugees have come to Arbat.
A bright future in school
The back-to-school initiative is just the beginning of an ongoing programme to ensure that refugee children enrol in school and continue their learning uninterrupted.
UNICEF Representative in Iraq Marzio Babille estimates that the school in Arbat will host more than 1,500 children in the next month. Support from the local young people is vital for the child refugees and their families.
“We trust the strength of youth. We trust their enthusiasm,” says Mr. Babille. “This is the sign of looking ahead for a bright future in school, becoming good students and good citizens.”