‘They have not forgotten about us’: Iraqi children receive messages from London school

‘It’s been genuinely life affirming during the Learn to Live campaign to see children in London get to know those we support in war zones,’ says War Child chief

Oliver Poole
Monday 05 November 2018 12:04 GMT
‘They have not forgotten about us’: Iraqi children receive messages from London school

It is a picture that at first glance looks like just another example of the kind that brighten up fridges across Britain, stuck there by proud parents to celebrate the work of their son or daughter.

But this is no typical primary school drawing. Black-clad stick figures patrol the street in an armed truck as prisoners dressed in orange kneel in front of sword and pistol-waving jihadis and the flag of Isis waves above.

It provides a harrowing insight into the horrors that its 12-year-old artist has already had to endure. For Ahmed’s school is not in the UK but in a displacement camp in northern Iraq.

He is a Yazidi, and his family were among those who fled as Isis overran their community’s ancient city of Sinjar in August 2014.

It was an assault that saw many of Isis’s most barbaric excesses. Some 7,000 women were seized and taken into captivity as sex slaves. The total number of Yazidis killed is still not known as mass graves continue to be uncovered.

Four years later, many of the children in the 6,000 families now living in United Nations tents at the camp outside the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, in Kurdistan, are still at risk of being traumatised by the memory of that time.

It is why War Child, the UK charity The Independent and Evening Standard are supporting in our Learn to Live campaign, is running special schools at the camp.

One lesson encourages the children to address what they experienced through the pictures they draw.

“What came to my mind I drew as this is the reality of what happened to us,” said Ahmed, who dreams of being a professional artist when he grows up. “A lot of children draw what happened to them to express what they feel.”

The top section of his picture shows Sinjar before Isis came, the middle what unfolded while they were there, and the bottom Ahmed’s hope of how Sinjar will be again once he and the other families feel safe enough to return.

The Evening Standard’s editor, George Osborne, travelled to Iraq to visit War Child’s schools for refugee children so he could see for himself how our Learn to Live campaign is impacting on their lives.

It has already seen more than 330 British schools sign up to “twin” with a school abroad, has raised up to £1m to support children in war zones, and launched a petition to demand the British government act to address the mental health challenges these children now face.

A London school that joined the initiative, Betty Layward Primary School in Stoke Newington, has been twinned with a War Child school in one of the northern Iraq displacement camps.

It is for families who fled Mosul when vigilante mobs roamed the city after it descended into chaos as soldiers fought brutal street battles with Isis militiamen to end Isis control.

Osborne brought with him letters from Betty Layward school, and showed a video of the children in London talking about how they wanted to know more about the Iraqi schoolchildren’s lives.

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The two schools have already exchanged examples of their favourite playground games, with the children at Betty Layward providing a step-by-step guide to their favourites including Musical Chairs, Grandma’s Footsteps and Cut the Cake.

Almost 40 Iraqi children were present as Osborne read them the latest letters, and they immediately started to decide what to write back to their new friends in London.

“Despite the fact they are living so far from here, in such a faraway place, they have not forgotten about us,” said one of the students, 14-year-old Mohammed. “It gives me hope for the future.”

War Child’s chief executive Rob Williams, who accompanied Osborne on the visit, said he had been touched by how excited the Iraqi children were to have further contact from the UK.

“It’s been genuinely life affirming during the Learn to Live campaign to see children in London get to know those we support in war zones and develop a deeper sense of empathy and understanding for their friends abroad,” he said.

“Seeing the sheer delight and excitement from the children in Iraq made it feel more real, and I know that this will be an experience these children will be able to cherish for years to come.”

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