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Kurdistan-Iraq March 2015

Back to Northern Iraq: Emergency Pedagogy at refugee schools

At the end of March an emergency pedagogy team from the Friends of Waldorf Education once again visited traumatized children and youths living in refugee camps located in the province of Dohuk in northern Iraq. At four UNICEF schools 1,300 children could be supported in processing their terrible experiences and teachers were trained in handling traumatised children. The operation took place in cooperation with “Aktion Deutschland hilft.”

A lot has changed since the last emergency pedagogy mission of the Friends of Waldorf Education in northern Iraq in September 2014. The internally displaced persons, the majority of whom had to camp in unfinished buildings and open fields, have now found refuge in newly installed refugee camps. Since the middle of February, UNICEF has set up multiple school tents, so that refugee children can once again attend school.

In the refugee camps Berseve I and Berseve II, an emergency pedagogy team supported four of these UNICEF schools from the 6th to the 20th of March. The schools work under difficult conditions: many school tents have neither tables nor chairs; the lessons take place on the floor. In some schools there are 1300 pupils for only 3 teachers and many of the pupils are severely traumatised. They have witnessed violence at the hands of the ISIS militia; have seen parents and siblings dying. The behavioural changes in the children caused by trauma could be seen everywhere; many exhibit aggressive behaviour during the day or isolate themselves.

In order to support these children and youth in processing their experiences, different pedagogical and therapeutic offerings were organised daily: experiential pedagogy and movement exercises return trust in themselves and their environment to children and dissolve their inner blockades. Art therapy offers a nonverbal alternative for expressing and processing experiences. All together around 1,200 children ages 5 to 17 years old could be reached through different workshops and given a bit of joy back. The laugh of children, the colourful cloths, paints, and balls show a picture of hope in the grey surroundings of the refugee camps.

In order to establish lasting emergency pedagogical structures 39 teachers were trained in psychotraumatology and the methods of emergency pedagogy in working with traumatised children. This training took place parallel to the workshops for children in the context of a 3-day continuing education course. Most of the teachers are themselves refugees from the disputed Sinjar-mountain region and also traumatised. The continuing education can assist them in working with their own and the children’s traumatisation.

But not only children and teachers have been affected, also many adults are severely traumatised. They all have terrible experiences to report: family members and friends lost, experiences of violence and torture by the ISIS militias. Many just barely escaped the massacres in their hometown. After an escape full of hardship and deprivation, they are stranded without belongings in the camp around Zaxo.

Additional important building blocks of the work of the Friends of Waldorf Education in northern Iraq are therefore parental consultation and psych-social help; especially for women. In cooperation with a local NGO, women’s groups, which provide women a space to talk about their ordeal and exchange their experiences, could be formed. Individual sessions with a trained psychotherapist were offered to those who were especially traumatised by their experiences during forced displacement and escape.

During the course of the year the Friends of Waldorf Education plans further emergency pedagogical operations in the region.

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