When fighting stops, there is so much to do. During the battle for Ramadi last year, the Al-Rajaa school for girls was on the front line. It suffered huge damage. The school director, Zainab Faisai, has worked there for 36 years, and she was one of the last to leave.
“Last year we were working in a primitive destroyed school. All of us, teachers and students, were psychologically exhausted,” Zainab remembers.
“It was very painful for us to see the destruction. We wish we could erase all the violent times we went through from our memories.”
Perhaps those memories can never be erased, but Zainab and her dedicated team of teachers were determined to re-open their school. Over the past few months, the ICRC has been working to help Al-Rajaa get up and running again. When an ICRC team first visited the school, they found not just major destruction, but huge danger as well.
“There were mortars falling from the second floor,” explains head of delegation Katharina Ritz. “There were rockets which were found on the ground.”
“When we first assessed the school the whole second floor was not accessible anymore, there were explosives and weapon contamination.”
ICRC demining staff removed the unexploded ordinance, and the builders and decorators got to work. Across Iraq, conflict has taken its toll on the education system. As building engineer Omar Khaled explains, Al-Rajaa is by no means the only school in need of repair.
“Schools are not fit to receive students,” he says. “We had to create temporary schools in caravans, which don’t have electricity, cooling systems, or heat insulation. They are not the same as properly built schools which have walls and roofs.”
And so when Al-Rajaa was re-opened, it was a happy day for everyone. The school is home to almost 600 students, and it is the only school in Ramadi to provide a science curriculum for girls. The enthusiasm is infectious, because, as student Duha Hareth points out, a renovation like this improves much more than the physical surroundings.
“We were not motivated to study, we didn’t have enough teachers,” she smiles. “Now, the teachers are back and we are motivated to study.”
“Our teachers were stressed, but they are better now.”
Al-Rajaa is the ICRC’s first access to education project in Iraq, but it won’t be the last. For now though, ICRC delegate Maria Carolina can allow herself a quiet moment of satisfaction at what has been achieved.
“For us it’s a huge pleasure not only to see the girls back in session in school but to also see the teachers and everyone investing in their education,” says Maria.
“Of course girls in most countries around the world face many barriers to accessing education so you can only imagine if you’re displaced and sitting in a classroom where you don’t have books or chairs or walls or windows, how many extra challenges you face to study.”
The girls of Al-Rajaa school face many more challenges in the future too, not least, supporting their country as it, hopefully, emerges from conflict. A good education, in a school where they can learn in peace and safety, will help them meet that challenge.