Teachers in Iraq’s Mosul learn to cope with traumatized pupils

Iraqi children read books at school in the battered city of Mosul, in this December 27, 2017 photo. (AFP)
Updated 09 January 2018
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Teachers in Iraq’s Mosul learn to cope with traumatized pupils

MOSUL: On a classroom whiteboard in the battered city of Mosul the words “rediscovering how to smile” outline the heartbreaking task of Iraqi teachers striving to heal their students’ mental scars after brutal Daesh group rule.
Dozens of Iraqi teachers — many battling trauma themselves — have gathered at a university, where instructor Nazem Shaker seeks to guide them in helping children still struggling to cope months after Daesh was driven from the devastated city.
Shaker has drawn a “problem tree” on the board whose roots are a litany of anguish: “relatives killed,” “witnessing beheadings,” “destruction” and “poverty.”
He hopes that through a program of games, mime and sport, teachers will be better able to help students reach the goals outlined in the top branches of his diagram, where “hope” and “optimism” join the aspiration to smile again.
“How to live together and eradicate violence,” he says are key lessons that have to be passed on.
The teachers must help show students how to reconstruct their lives and escape the stress, pressures and bad memories that haunt them, he adds.
It is not just the years of Daesh rule that haunt the waking lives and sleeping hours of the children in Iraq’s second city.
The ferocious nine months of urban combat that saw Iraqi troops force out the jihadists in July with the help of airstrikes by a US-led coalition have left deep marks — both physical and mental.
School headmaster Noamat Sultan encounters the destructive impact of the psychological trauma daily.
“One of our students was very aggressive and kept on picking fights with his classmates,” he tells AFP.
“We had a long discussion with him and discovered that his father and brother had been killed recently in an explosion.”
With the help of the boy’s older brother and more attention from teachers, he has gradually been coaxed back to himself.
“We have already managed to convince him not to drop out of school,” said father-of-eight Sultan.
Physical education teacher Rasha Ryadh has seen the heavy toll from the “psychological pressures caused by seeing executions, deaths, explosions and the loss of loved ones,” but is sure the students can recover.
“They are ready to respond positively to the rehabilitation programs because they want to banish the thoughts and memories that drag them back to the period of Daesh group rule,” she says.
Such is the case for 12-year-old schoolboy Ahmed Mahmud, who despite his youth says he is “exhausted” by everything he has seen.
“When I sit down in class I don’t have the will to study,” Mahmud says.
“I think back to the time of IS and I remember those who were executed like my uncle. They threw people off buildings and forced us to watch.”
The 900 students at head teacher Sultan’s school are able to study in just half of the building after fighting reduced the rest to rubble.
The few remaining classrooms are seriously overcrowded, and benches meant for two pupils often have five or more crammed on them.
Twelve-year-old Osama is not yet among them.
He is still reeling from seeing an air strike send most of the other houses in his street crashing down on top of his neighbors.
“For weeks he didn’t say a word,” says his mother Umm Osama.
The boy still needs help to dress, wash and eat, and often seems lost inside himself.
“Sometimes without warning he’d leave the house and just wander around aimlessly for hours,” his mother says.
“Several times it was hard to find him.”


Qatar accused of building World Cup stadiums on land stolen from persecuted tribe

Updated 27 min 1 sec ago
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Qatar accused of building World Cup stadiums on land stolen from persecuted tribe

  • Al-Ghufran tribe hand a letter of protest to the game’s world governing body, FIFA
  • The tribe claim that land used for World Cup stadiums was taken from them by force

ZURICH: Qatar was accused on Monday of building stadiums for the 2022 football World Cup on land stolen from a tribe it has persecuted for more than 20 years. 

A delegation from the Al-Ghufran tribe handed a letter of protest to the game’s world governing body, FIFA, and demanded that Qatar be stripped of the right to hold the tournament unless the tribe receives justice. 

“The World Cup is a gathering of people who come together for the love of the game, honest competition, brotherhood and love and respect among nations; how will Qatar play the role of supplying this when it is so unfair to its own citizens?” a spokesman for the tribe said. 

“The FIFA system states that the country where the World Cup is held must respect and preserve human rights, but this is a country that harms its own citizens and strips them of their rights, and then talks about freedom and democracy.”

The tribe claim that land used for World Cup stadiums was taken from them by force, and that sports facilities were built illegally and illegitimately after the owners were thrown off the land and stripped of their citizenship.

“The state resorted to every illegitimate method in dealing with the Al-Ghufran tribe, from deprivation to expulsion from the country, withdrawal of their official documents and denial of education and health care,” the spokesman said.

The tribe’s ordeal began in 1996, when some of their members voiced support for Sheikh Khalifa Al-Thani, the Qatari emir deposed the previous year by his son Hamad, father of the current emir, Sheikh Tamim.

About 800 Al-Ghufran families, more than 6,000 people, were stripped of their citizenship and had their property confiscated. Many remain stateless, both in Qatar and in neighboring Gulf countries.

A delegation from the tribe has been in Switzerland for the past week, presenting their case to UN human rights officials in Geneva. 

They have asked the UN to stop Qatari authorities’ continuous and systematic discrimination against them, to protect the tribe’s members and restore their lost rights, and to punish the Qatari regime for human-rights violations.

A delegation from the tribe organized a demonstration on Monday at the Broken Chair, a monumental wooden sculpture opposite the Palace of Nations in Geneva that symbolises opposition to land mines and cluster bombs.

“The international community must stop turning a blind eye to the human rights violations committed against the Al-Ghufran tribe by the Qatari regime,” said Mohamed Saleh Al-Ghafzani, a member of the delegation.

“We are talking to everyone who comes in and out of the United Nations building about our crisis and our stolen rights; after Qatar took our nationality away, there is nothing else we can lose.”