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Haifa Waleed - “I prefer to be illiterate than to die”

[Iraq] Haifa misses going to school but is scared of the violence. [Date picture taken: 01/09/2007]
(Afif Sarhan/IRIN)

“I am 10 years old but I have not been to school for the past three years because I’m scared of the killings taking place in Iraq. Many of my friends have either been kidnapped or killed.

“Since I was five I had been attending the Adhamiyah Primary and Secondary School, in Adhamiyah district [one of the most popular Sunni neighbourhoods in Baghdad]. I made many friends there but since last year, many of them have either fled Iraq with their parents or have left school because their parents are afraid for them because of the increase in kidnappings and killing of children and teachers.

“I miss my school very much but in the classroom I used to keep looking at the door to see if someone would break in and kidnap me. My family is poor and if they [the kidnappers] take me, I might die because they cannot pay a ransom.

“My mother usually forced me go to school, saying that if I believed in God nothing would happen to me but nowadays things are not so easy and even people who pray day and night are being killed.

“Two weeks ago, a close friend of mine was killed while she was leaving the school with her father. A car with men wearing black crossed in front of them and the men shot them dead. It was horrible and there were many children at the school’s gate at that time.

“I have two brothers, Amir and Younis. Both of them are in school. Amir, who is 13, says he is not afraid of killers or kidnappers and he has become a man and is not afraid. But Younis used to cry every day when he had to go to school with me. He is only seven but was seriously sad and traumatised from the violence but my parents don’t understand this and used to force him to go with me anyway.

“I dream of leaving Iraq but this is only a dream because my parents are too poor to do that. Sometimes I think I will go crazy with the tension I have in my head and the pressure from all sides, especially from my mother who insists that I have to go to school to be someone important. Inside me I know that what I want is just to be away from this violence.

“Life is very bad and education is going from bad to worse. Teachers are scared all the time and many of them have left school after receiving threats, making us more scared.

“I want to stay at home because somehow I will be safer. I prefer to be illiterate than to die or see a friend killed in front of me or maybe kidnapped and have my ears sent to my family as happened to one of my best friends three months ago.”


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

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