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.”


Iran govt faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

Since protests began in December, Iranians have had their internet access disrupted and have lost access to the messaging app Telegram. (Reuters)
Updated 18 February 2019
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Iran govt faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

  • The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government

GENEVA, LONDON: In early January, labor activist Esmail Bakhshi posted a letter on Instagram saying he had been tortured in jail, attracting support from tens of thousands of Iranians online.
Bakhshi, who said he was still in pain, also challenged the intelligence minister to a public debate about the religious justification for torture. Late last month, Bakhshi was rearrested.
Sepideh Qoliyan, a journalist covering labor issues in the Ahvaz region, was also rearrested on the same day after saying on social media that she had been abused in jail.
Bakhshi’s allegations of torture and the social media furor that followed led Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to call for an investigation, and the intelligence minister subsequently met with a parliamentary committee to discuss the case, a rare example of top officials being prompted to act by a public backlash online.
“Each sentence and description of torture from the mouths of #Sepideh_Qoliyan and #Esmail_Bakhshi should be remembered and not forgotten because they are now alone with the torturers and under pressure and defenseless. Let us not forget,” a user named Atish posted on Twitter in Farsi on Feb. 11.
“When thousands of people share it on social media, the pressure for accountability goes up,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director at the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran. “Sham investigations won’t put it to rest. Social media is definitely becoming a major, major public square in Iran.”
Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said last month, without naming Bakhshi, that allegations of torture online constitute a crime.
His comments follow growing pressure from officials to close Instagram, which has about 24 million users in Iran. Iran last year shut down the Telegram messaging app, which had about 40 million users in the country, citing security concerns.
“Today you see in cyberspace that with the posting of a film or lie or rumor the situation in the country can fall apart,” Dolatabadi said, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency. “You saw in recent days that they spread a rumor and announced the rape of an individual or claimed suicide and recently you even saw claims of torture and all the powers in the country get drawn in. Today cyberspace has been transformed into a very broad platform for committing crimes.”
The arrests of Bakhshi and Qoliyan are part of a crackdown in Ahvaz, center of Iran’s Arab population. Hundreds of activists there pushing for workers’ and minority rights, two of the most contentious issues in Iran, have been detained in recent weeks.
The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government.