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School Kits for Syrian Kurdish Refugees

Distribution of Relief and school kits

Each year Iraqi Al-Amal Association in partner with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) distributes a relief and school kits to the needs of IDP families and widows and divorced women in Iraq who suffer from neglect, a lack of services and a shortage of livelihood supplies and far from governmental supports.

On this action, Mr.Jim wrote this article about the latest relief distribution for Syrian children in the refugee camp “Basirma“in Erbil –Kurdistan Iraq.

School Kits for Syrian Kurdish Refugees

Posted on December 12, 2013 by jsfineiii

I set out with staff from two of our Iraqi partner organizations earlier this week to visit one of the ten Syrian refugee camps in the Kurdish Region of northern Iraq.There are now some 240,000 Syrian refugees, most of them ethnic Kurds, living in the Region, about a third in School children of Basirma Camp (post photos by Salar Ahmed).

camps and two-thirds in urban areas. Our destination was Basirma Camp, an hour and a half’s drive from Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish Region, and about twenty  minutes beyond the mountain resort town of Shaqlawa. Basirma is one of the smaller camps with a population of a little less than 4,000. It is situated next to the village of the same name in a long valley surrounded by mountains.

As our car descended into the valley the camp with its regular rows of white UNHCR tents and caravans came into view. A bulldozer was at work in the wet brown soil,leveling a plot of ground for more caravans to replace the tents. The camp’s perimeter fence was a patchwork of bright colors, with shirts, pants, jackets,dresses, and other garments draped over the top to dry in the cold December sunshine.

Salar helps with distribution

My colleagues on the trip were Abdullah Khaled of al-Messalah and Salar Ahmed of Iraqi al-Amal.Al-Messalah and Iraqi al-Amal are two of Iraq’s leading peace building organizations. Al-Messalah operates women’s centers in the Syrian camps,training and employing refugee women to conduct classes and discussions on a variety of subjects. Abdullah had come to visit the center in the camp and meet with camp officials. Salar and I had come to witness the distribution of some of the school kits that MCC had recently shipped to al-Amal. Salar had made quite a few calls to figure out where the kits were most needed and was pleased that he had found appropriate recipients. He was especially committed to arranging the distribution because he had himself seen the school kits and other relief items being assembled and packed in Akron, Pennsylvania when he visited MCC headquarters last summer after participating in Eastern Mennonite University’s Summer Peace building Institute.

We parked the carat the camp entrance and walked over to the school. Nine large UNICEF tents arranged around a central space served as classrooms. A caravan housed the office of the headmaster, an Iraqi Kurdish teacher from the neighboring village of Basirma. The headmaster welcomed us warmly. He explained that the school had 653 students in grades one to six. Half the students came in the morning and half in the afternoon. He reported with regret that there were as yet no high school classes in the camp but pointed with pride to the large caravans being readied nearby to replace the tent classrooms.

The distribution proved to be a happy occasion. When we entered the tent classrooms we saw that they were very orderly and well equipped. The students sat at brand new desks.Sturdy old carpets covered the dirt floor. The teachers, drawn from the camp population, had white boards to illustrate their lessons. Each child had abackpack and books. The children were bright and energetic. They seemed happy despite their hardship and dislocation.  

A speech in arabic

I gave a little speech in Arabic to the thirty or so fifth and sixth graders that we distributed kits to directly. They seemed tickled. Hearing a white-bearded Anglo speaking broken Arabic was for them like listening to a talking monkey.They thanked us profusely for the school kits. I recited the Arabic proverb, “la shukr ala wajeb,” “no thanks needed for doing a duty.” I told them that the school kits came from a people in North America who had been refugees themselves in living memory and expressed the hope that after they themselves were safely returned to their homes and living in freedom that they would one day have the opportunity to help others in time of need. I received a nice round of applause in response.

A student expresses thanks 

Most of the people in the camp are from the Hasake region in northeastern Syria, where MCChad a SALTer until 2011. When I mentioned this people, of course, expressed the hope that we would send staff there again in the future.

One of the teachers thanked us yet one more time as we left and said that the school kits were important for the students but what was even more important for them was our visit. What they needed most, he said, was friendships and the knowledge that they were not forgotten.

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