World Vision's Let Us Learn project offers children living in IDPs camps in Duhok, Kurdistan Region of Iraq with access to education and safe places to play.

Mighdad checkmates his challenges: The role of play in helping Iraqi children cope with the experiences of war

Mighdad, aged nine, was a talented and clever child before the conflict in his home forced him and his family to run a seek safety in the internally displaced peoples (IDP) camp, Bervise 1 in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). 

"[Mighdad] had access to almost whatever he wanted to have...But when we flee from Shingal, he suddenly lost all he had and changed," said his father.

When Mighdad’s father first registering him with the World Vision Let Us Learn Child Friendly Learning Space (CFLS) sadly stated he hoped Mighdad would get better.

Mighdad’s father explained that at their home in Shingal Mighdad had many friends and toys.

“We were financially well off and (Mighdad) had access to almost whatever he wanted to have. He lived in a very peaceful situation and he had never experienced living in poor circumstances. But when we flee from Shingal, he suddenly lost all he had and changed.

“He cried over his friends, home and toys almost every night. Sometimes he would suddenly wake up at midnight and cry loud asking for his friends and toys.”

Mighdad’s father said he had hoped that through the CFLS Mighdad would learn skills to cope with the effects of the crisis.

Working together to help Mighdad

At the CFLS opening ceremony, Mighdad deliberately interrupted the event with noisy behaviour, beat smaller children and used inappropriate language with guests, staff and the elderly. 

“You want us to forget Shingal!” shouted Mighdad,  “I know why you are here. Do not try to fool us. I know you are here to make me forget my Shingal, friends and toys but never try that with me because I will never forget Shingal. Never!”

Through specialised consultation, CFLS staff  learned that Mighdad had experienced terrifying events causing him to feel he had lost his dignity and value. As a result, Mighdad therefore act violently to any other child who expressed happiness in front of him. 

"I will never forget Shingal. Never!” shouted Mighdad.

The CFLS integrated approach to education, protection, resilience and psychosocial support enable staff to work closely with Mighdad to being to restore his confidence and personal sense of value.  The staff began to engage Mighdad in important roles in the CFLS, praising him for his positive progress and achievements, giving him the encouragement and motivation to gain dignity through contributing to the CFLS.

As Children’s Day approached, CFLS staff asked Mighdad to participate in the group responsible for the day’s preparation and asked him if he would like to join the chorus group.

At first, Mighdad refused. But upon finding out he could sing the Kurdish national anthem Ay Raqib if he chose, Mighdad asked to join the chorus.

By encouraging him to sing the national anthem, staff hoped Mighdad would realise the CFLS did not oppose his values and his memories, but rather they respected them.

Mighdad and Children’s Day

On Children’s Day (1 June 2015), Mighdad, together with other children, sang the Kurdish national anthem Ay Raqib, performing song beautifully, respectfully and humbly.

After the performance, Mighdad’s parents and staff were shocked to see him in a crowd of children distributing chocolates and cheering up the younger children. Mighdad’s father, pleased with his son’s progress, believed the experience would help Mighdad to shine again.

Despite this success staff observed Mighdad continuing to occasionally use violence with other children.

Your move

Mrs. Gulpary, one of Mighdad’s favourite teachers began to teach him how to play chess.

Each time they played, Mighdad insisted he play with the white chess pieces. Every time either of them won, Mrs Gulpary would remind Mighdad that, “Life is not about success and failure. If you fail, it’s not the end, you try again.”

This process went on until Mighdad no longer cared which coloured chess pieces he played with during the game.

“Life is not about success and failure. If you fail, it’s not the end, you try again," Mrs. Gulpary told Migdad.

With the assistance and support of Mrs. Gulpary and CFLS staff, Mighdad is now a different boy. He now actively participates in CFLS activities and makes friends in the space, is a fast learner and plays chess very well!

He can now distinguish between right and wrong and is beginning to resemble the meaning of his name – someone who can decide between good and bad.

While Mighdad has not yet fully recovered from his trauma and still needs assistance, CFLS staff are dedicated to helping Mighdad to progress further and prepare him for more success in life.

The Let Us Learn project has helped more than 12,000 children and their families living in the IDP camps Bersive 1 and Bervise 2, Duhok, KRI.

Since February, 2015, the Let Us Learn project has helped more than 12,000 children and their families living in the IDP camps Bersive 1 and Bervise 2, Duhok, KRI.

Learn more about the Let Us Learn project and World Vision’s approach to Education in Emergencies

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