After a closure of six weeks, one of the first primary schools in Baghdad to reopen its doors after the war welcomed back its pupils on Tuesday. About 30 of the school's 1,300 pupils turned up on the first day, but the school's principal Sa'diyah Sa'd said numbers would increase quickly as the word spread.
The inscription over the school’s entrance used to read: Saddam Hussein School, Established 1940. But now the "Saddam Hussein" has been scratched out; Sa'diyah Sa'd said that the school would now be called Liberty School.
Fears about the continuing insecurity in the city and difficulties getting to school were reasons why not everyone would return to school for some time. The school had buses, but could not operate them because there was no fuel. Many of the school’s rooms had broken windows caused by bomb blasts nearby, and it still had no electricity, she said.
Moreover, all 52 teachers were working without pay and had no idea when they might get their wages, Sa'diyah said. "We are just doing this for the good of the children. It’s our loyalty to our children and to help our country." She went on to say that in an effort to catch up the lessons lost during the war, they would concentrate on academic subjects rather than activities like sports during the month before the end of the school year. Parents would also be encouraged to give extra lessons to their children at home.
Delivering his son to school, Ra'd Taha al-Samarra'i said he had continued to teach his children reading and writing during the war, but was extremely glad to have schools open again.
Another parent, Suha Abd al-Hamid, said the war had been terrible for the children. For her it had been particularly painful, as her husband had been killed in Kuwait during the 1991 war, and she feared for her children as bombs rained down on Baghdad again. "We just want things to go back to being safe and well so the children can go back to school, and we hope that the future will be better for our children."
But the war will take a while to be forgotten. Arriving at school for his first day, seven-year-old Yasir Ahmad clutched a two-cm-long machine-gun bullet he had found on the street. His mother, Dunya Mustafa, said the war had affected the children psychologically, making them scared and depressed.
Another mother, Hayfah Baha, said she was still frightened to send her 12-year-old daughter to school, because there was unexploded ordnance in the streets, shooting at night and looting still going on. "Now I can’t even leave my daughter standing at the front of the house," she said.
At nearby Adhamiya Secondary School for girls, its principal, Salwa Ahmad al-Sharbati, agreed that security was a major concern for everyone. "Nobody feels safe about bringing their children to school," she said; what was needed was a police car with two officers at the school entrance, but there were no longer any police in Baghdad.
On Tuesday, staff and students were busy cleaning the school from damage caused when bombs exploded at a nearby palace of Saddam Husayn's, and Salwa said she would open the 700-pupil school on Wednesday. "It has been an extraordinary situation, and I feel upset, but we hope to get things back to normal. Especially at this age, if the youths have no school, it has a big effect on their future - it is very bad."
Earlier in the year, expecting war to break out, she had doubled lessons, and would now try to do the same again so that pupils could catch up. Eighteen-year-old Ansama Hazim was one of the students helping to clear away a thick layer of dirt, accumulated rubbish and broken glass from the classrooms.
Even though the war was over, she did not feel safe, but was so keen to return to school that she made her brother accompany her. She was particularly worried she would not be able to sit the end-of-year exams, in which case the whole academic year would be lost. The same fears are being expressed at universities where students are also set to return to class.
At Baghdad University’s Al-Kindi College of Medicine, lecturers are planning to resume lectures and clinical work on Saturday, although practical lessons in laboratories could be a month away. But one lecturer, Prof Ali, said staff would do everything they could to enable students to complete the academic year even if it meant extending classes into holiday time.
He was particularly worried about how the war had affected students psychologically, also noting that many of them might have difficulty getting back to Baghdad from their homes across the country. "Frankly, this is not an easy situation we have faced. We are a repressed people. Teaching staff and doctors hope that things will get better for us, but it’s a vague future."
Staff had received no communication from education ministry officials, so had had to make their own decisions about reopening. Ali was pessimistic about how quickly things could return to normal, given that the university still had no electricity or sufficient water.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions