By Chris Niles
SULAYMANIYAH, Iraq 14 September 2013—It’s over 40 degrees centigrade in the new Arbat refugee camp in northern Iraq. But that hasn’t stopped dozens of young Syrian refugee children from lining up for something they’ve been eagerly looking forward to—the first day of school.
Meanwhile, dozens of other young people are on the way to the camp in mini buses. They’re students from the Classical School of the Medes in Sulaymaniya. For the last several weeks they’ve worked hard to ensure that the refugee children have all the equipment to start the school year off right.
Through bake sales and other community events they’ve raised enough money to buy everything from school uniforms, books and backpacks, to toothpaste and soap.
Once they arrive at the camp the students unload the buses and start distributing supplies. There are books, cheerfully coloured backpacks, pens and drawing paper. The students also give out juice, milk and water.
Among them is Sahar Mohammed, 17, who is a senior in high school. She plans to become a nutritionist so that she can help children live healthier lives.
“We’re talking to the kids, interacting with them, asking them about what they like, most of the kids said that they like school (and) they want to become helpful in their community,” she said. “So it’s been a good experience.”
The older students then help the younger children to decorate a banner, which bears the words ‘Welcome Back to School’. Sitting on carpets, children make hand prints in paint.
UNICEF staff at the camp also celebrate this important day for children.
“I’m really proud to see the young generation of students from the school in Sulaymaniya supporting these young kids to bring them back to school. You can see all the smiles on their faces,” said UNICEF Supply Officer, Thawra Al Jaff.
It’s a particularly meaningful day for Thawra, who is from Sulaymaniyah. She is on mission from UNICEF’s Supply Division in Copenhagen, Denmark to support UNICEF’s emergency response to the more than 60,000 Syrian refugees who have arrived in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in the last month.
More than 7,000 of these refugees have come to Arbat.
The back to school initiative is just the beginning of an ongoing programme to ensure that refugee children enrol in school and continue their learning uninterrupted.
UNICEF Representative in Iraq Marzio Babille estimates that the school in Arbat will host more than 1,500 children in the next month. Support from the local young people is vital for the child refugees and their families.
“We trust the strength of youth. We trust their enthusiasm,” he said. “This is the sign of looking ahead for a bright future in school, becoming good students and good citizens.”