Creative solutions to safe school reopening in Iraq

Published: Aug 11, 2021 Reading time: 4 minutes
Creative solutions to safe school reopening in Iraq
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If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we have to get creative in balancing the twin priorities of public health and continuity of education. According to a recent statement by UNICEF and UNESCO “Schools should be the last things to close and the first thing to open.” This statement comes at a time that children in Iraq and around the world return to school and raising the question on how can we engage with them and their families in new ways to ensure everyone’s health and safety?

To ensure that students can return to their classrooms once the fall semester begins, People in Need (PIN), supported by the UNICEF fund Education Cannot Wait (ECW), is helping ensure schools in the Ninewa and Salah al Din governorates can reopen safely. One key activity was a series of events where children painted images and messages on their own school walls around health and hygiene.

Ahmad, 32, a school teacher spoke to us about the importance of raising awareness among pupils regarding the impacts of Covid-19. “Corona has impacted people all around the world. Children in Iraq have encountered a lot before Corona and with Corona the crisis continues. If there is no proper awareness raising, like that provided by PIN, many children will keep their poor habits resulting in them getting sick and taking this sickness home to their families.”

“It will remind us of how to properly wash our hands and also to keep our school clean,” said Emad, 14. Other than a unique and creative way to facilitate a behavior change campaign, these colorful painting events also offer opportunities for the children to socialize and interact with their peers; an experience that many have missed out on during the pandemic.

"Maybe in the future I will become an artist"

“I missed the school environment and it was hard for me not to be able to come to my school and sit in my class. I also could not play football with my classmates as we used to before,” said Sami, 14.

“I like art and I enjoy drawing a lot,” Sami continued, “maybe in the future I will become an artist. This experience is a lot of fun for me.”

By allowing children the power to unleash their individual creativity in a group setting, the goals are to foster a sense of responsibility in relation to the hygiene messaging. They did not simply receive these lessons from an adult during class, but they created them themselves! This allows them to be role models to themselves and each other, holding one another accountable. “Through art we can teach children in a fun way. Also, during art sessions, we can discover more about children and their emotions,” said Maher, a teacher and parent of children attending the school.

“They are important because it help us remember what we learned in sanitary clubs and during online classes to keep these habits. Also, it makes the schools pretty!” said Sami and Emad.

PIN designed a multi-step plan to make sure it will be safe for students to return to their classes. The first step was establishing Sanitary Clubs in schools where students learn about the importance of hygiene habits and how to protect themselves from Covid-19. “We learn how to take care of our bodies and stay clean,” said Emad, referring to the Sanitary Clubs. “When we teach children from when they are young they acquire them as habits and they continue to use them and this is why it is important,” said Ahmad.

PIN and ECW aim to support 5,000 students in northern Iraq with sanitary clubs, trainings for teachers, PTA members and education personnel, alongside providing schools with, printers and hygiene and cleaning kits.

UNICEF and UNESCO are advocating for the safe reopening of schools as part of their global response to Covid-19.

“The losses that children and young people will incur from not being in school may never be recouped”

“Closing schools mortgages our future for unclear benefits to our present. We must prioritize better. We can reopen schools safely, and we must.” A goal that we are working hard to achieve with all our partners.

Author: Ruaa Habib and Majd Zaghir, People in Need

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