Life After so-called Islamic State: Rebuilding Schools in RabiaPublished: Oct 11, 2016 Reading time: 4 minutes
The town of Rabia is located on the border between Syria and Iraq. The city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and the de facto capital in Iraq for so-called Islamic State lies to the east. In the summer of 2014, so-called Islamic state swept across northern and western Iraq and declared its caliphate across its territory. At that time the town of Rabia, a strategically important location, fell into militants hands.
Iraqi Kurdish forces, with international support, retook Rabia in October 2014. Outgunned and outnumbered by 1,500 to 30, so-called Islamic State finally gave up their last stand after holding out in an unfinished hospital for 3 days.
Even with militants forced from the area, the town has been weakened and impoverished by the destruction incurred under so-called Islamic State. Even today, 18 months after Rabia was liberated, the town is still visibly a long way from where it used to be and struggling to cope with the lasting impact of the rampage. Buildings, homes, schools and livelihoods were destroyed. The town’s infrastructure and services are insufficient to support a population that has witnessed great destruction, a weakened economy and waves of people seeking refuge from attacks on nearby villages. Villages in the area were destroyed, some completely burned to the ground in the fight against militants.
In and around Rabia, shells of buildings and piles of rubble remain where buildings once stood. The government is doing what is can to support the people but more is needed.
Schools were not spared and many were rendered completely unusable. Those still standing must now host two or three other local schools each day in shifts. On average each school has more than 700 students attending classes in back-to-back shifts.
The local community has been actively engaged in the projects from the start. Community committees were established to monitor the rehabilitations, so that the people for whom this project matters the most - parents, teachers, local authorities and community leaders - were invested in the project and could oversee the completion of the works that were being done to support the next generations of their community.
Headmasters, parents, teachers and local authorities accompanied People in Need’s engineer to the schools in order to assess them before rehabilitations begun and identify the priorities. Salah, PIN’s engineer in northern Iraq, describes what state the schools were in before work started.
"Rabia Secondary School for Boys had been abandoned for over a year due to the destruction. The students had transferred to Balad-Shahid school. The school was in need of complete rehabilitation, with the priorities including latrines, doors, windows and water,” says Salah.
The mark of so-called Islamic State was evident across the secondary school, which had stood opposite a building militants had been using as one of their bases before they were ousted. The school had come under attack on multiple occasions. The walls that were still standing were riddled with the holes of bullets and rockets. Mortars had fallen on the roof, collapsing the ceiling into the unusable classrooms.
In Rabia’s Primary School for Girls, Salah describes the key areas of concern:
"On assessment of the school building, the main priority was the school latrines. In fact, many girls had left school because of latrines. There was no water, and the outer wall of the school was also severely damaged.”
Despite these poor sanitary and structural conditions, this primary school had to host a second school in the afternoon. 1000 students attended the school every day, placing more strain on an already fraught building. In order to support and promote education amongst girls, this school was a priority for PIN’s rehabilitation project. There are many obstacles in the way of girls’ education, it was necessary to ensure that students were not dropping out on the basis of facilities.
The pictures taken before rehabilitations began show how desperately the schools needed repairing. Now, as rehabilitation works are well-underway already the learning environment has improved. Rehabilitating these schools is not only important from an infrastructural point of view so that children are able to learn in a place they feel safe and comfortable but also from a psychological point of view. Sharihan, PIN’s education project manager for Zummar and Rabia, explains this further:
“These rehabilitation works remove all the traces of the war with militants such as the cracks, holes and damages to walls and rooves made by the bombardment, so when students come back to their schools they will not see such traces which remind them of the war and the unhappy experiences they had gone through that will affect them psychologically. Thus, returning to schools with no signs of war will help to create a lovely, warm and peaceful teaching and learning environment for both teachers and students.”
This project was made possible thanks to the generous support of Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs.