Iraq: Local tribes in south set up schools

KERBALA, 3 June 2007 (IRIN) - Shia Muslim tribes in Iraq's southern provinces have begun setting up their own schools in an effort to prevent their children losing another academic year due to insecurity.

Using empty mosques, the homes of tribal leaders and open areas, 21 temporary schools in Basra, Missan, Najaf and Kerbala provinces will eventually provide free education to some 2,000 children. Teachers will be paid by the local community.

"As violence was increasing and our children were unable to go to schools we decided to make our own," Khalid Hussein Ala'a, a Shia tribal leader and one of the original initiators of the project, said, noting that most schools in the area were already overburdened with a large number of newly displaced children.

"The only problem we had was finding enough books and related materials for the children, but fortunately good people offered us the money we needed to buy these items. Now, hundreds of children have access to education again," Ala'a said.

According to Acram Hassan, a teacher in one of the schools, so far the idea is working and both students and teachers are benefiting.

"We were being targeted [before in regular schools] but now we receive full protection from the tribes," Hassan said. "We get paid for our work. Of course it's not equal to what we were getting before but at least we can work feeling safe, while at the same time ensure that children don't lose out on their education."

In addition to those children who could not go to school due to insecurity and violence in the area, the newly established schools are also providing a learning opportunity for some children who have never been to school at all.

"For the first time I'm able to write my name," 14-year-old Ali Mehi, a resident in a rural area of Kerbala, said. "It was one of my dreams to read. Now I hope it will come true."