In Kirkuk, teamwork builds tolerance

Nabaa holds a trophy with her basketball teammates after winning a game against a nearby school. (Photo: ©UNICEF/ Iraq/ 2015/ Anmar)

(Reposted from: UNICEF Iraq.  November 23, 2015)

Of the almost 3.2 million people who’ve been internally displaced in Iraq since January 2014, more than 400,000 have fled to Kirkuk Governorate. The abrupt increase in the number of displaced people in Kirkuk has resulted in a shortage of resources and impacted the delivery of essential services, particularly education.

Kirkuk has long been home to people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds, including Kurds, Turkmen, Assyrians and Arabs. Displaced Iraqis seeking safety in Kirkuk have added to this diversity — but they’ve also added to the tensions of an area short of services, near an active frontline.

UNICEF responded to the friction and shortages in Kirkuk by establishing a programme to foster peace and tolerance, starting in schools.

“It’s essential that education provision is equitable and that schools are conflict-sensitive so that they can promote peace,” says Kelsey Shanks, a consultant with UNICEF.

The Peace Education Programme includes, among other activities, the formation of youth groups — students who are chosen to monitor and report on any conflict in 30 schools across the governorate. It also features community outreach groups, teacher training, workshops, and team sports activities. Sports teams are always mixed to ensure that all the community groups in a school are part of each team. The strategy helps build team spirit among the participants — during and after the games.

One of the many students who benefited from the Peace Education is Nabaa, 17. She’s a Turkmen studying in Al-Yaqatha High School.

Thanks to the programme, Nabaa’s school established sports activities to promote teambuilding and cooperation among young people, and Nabaa was able to achieve her dream of playing on the girls’ basketball team. Nabaa and her friends were trained for two weeks, after which they played a game against a nearby school. Nabaa’s team won, and the girls received medals and a trophy at the end of the game.

“I love playing basketball,” Nabaa says with a smile. “I am following my father’s footsteps; he was also a basketball player.”

UNICEF`s Peace Education Programme was established with generous contributions from the government of Italy`s Cooperazione Italiana allo Sviluppo. The initiative strengthens peace and social cohesion among students and schools, teaches mutual understanding and tolerance, nurtures inclusion, and creates safe schools.

Sajjad Ismail, Education Specialist in UNICEF, says that the programme is small but successful, and plans to expand: “These are small interventions with a big impact.”

Ala Abdullah is a Consultant with UNICEF Iraq.

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