A young, green eyed boy of 14, Ahmed* is dressed in his formal dark blue suit today. He is not dressed up to be interviewed, today is a special day for him for another reason. Ahmed has been chosen among hundreds of students to raise the flag of Iraq for his school. Sharp and outgoing, he has a strong character that hides the very harsh story of the last few years. It is an invisible scar that no one could guess was there from just a casual encounter with him.
Ahmed was born and raised in the west side of Mosul. He lived a stable and normal life with his parents, three brothers and one sister. He is the second child of the family after his sister. His father was blind and an Imam in the local mosque. Ahmed used to go with his father to the outdoors and to have dinner. Not overcome by his blindness, his father taught him many things in life including how to become an Imam. Ahmed often walked his father to the mosque.
During those days, his father was making plans for Ahmed and his family. Ahmed shared “My father was thinking of making a future for us. We had some land and my father was thinking of making a house for us in the east side (of Mosul).” Sadly, all the dreams that Ahmed’s father had for his family faded away once ISIL came into the city.
How his life turned around
In the beginning when ISIL came in 2014, Ahmed and his family did not notice much difference, except that a new government was announced, but gradually, the brutality of ISIL came out. Unlike many other families who had fled the city, Ahmed and his family could not leave because they were extremely poor and could not afford to escape and live in another city.
Despite deeply valuing education, Ahmed’s father did not allow his children to go to school under ISIL’s control because the curriculum encouraged children toward extremism and violence. Ahmed shared what his father told him once, “I don’t want to you not to go to school. Education is a weapon. I don’t want the same to happen to you. I had my circumstances and I was blind so I couldn’t continue. This happened to me (referring to their harsh living conditions) because I couldn’t continue my education. I want you all to continue your education.”
Ahmed often listened carefully to what his father would say to him. He would come to greatly value his father’s words. When asked how he felt about not going to school he shared, “Since my dad told me not to go, then that was it.” Ahmed used to spend most of the days at his home with the family avoiding going out in fear of getting hurt by ISIL, but there was a period during that time that he worked in a chicken factory to make ends meet for his family.
When the operation to retake Mosul started in 2016, true tragedy fell over his family. One day, in the middle of the conflict, Ahmed and his family fled their home. They all held each other’s hands as they ran. Suddenly, his father and brother stepped on a mine. Ahmed shared, “My father’s and my brother’s legs were cut and my brother was in flames, but my mother took him out (to a safer place). My father died on the first day and his body was left on the streets for 23 days.” Ahmed’s father was injured in the morning and Ahmed watched as his mother stayed with him weeping and protecting him the whole day. Ahmed tried to get her to come away, knowing that his father was gone, but she wouldn’t leave him alone. A few days later, Ahmed’s brother also died from his injuries. Ahmed shared, “Before my father died, he told me to take care of my sister and mother.”
Getting back to school, struggles and overcoming
Today Ahmed is living by the memory of his father and brother, two of the closest people to his heart. He is more determined than ever to do something meaningful in his life to overcome the tragedies and to fulfill his father’s dream. Ahmed shared, “My dream is to build (a house) for myself and my family, to continue my education and that all my siblings continue their education. My dream is to get my family out of the west side (of Mosul). The place where we live is the same neighborhood where my father died. Every time I come out of the house, I don’t want to pass by that street. Every time I go out, I remember the scene. I want to continue my education, get a job, succeed and purchase a house next to my grandfather’s house in the east side.”
Unlike other students who took a placement exam, once Ahmed returned to school, he did not want to take the exam to place into a higher grade after the years of school he missed. Instead, he started back in the third year in order to learn everything he could. He was challenged however when he reached the sixth grade and failed his math exam. He sought out a relative who was a teacher, but she was so busy with her family and children that Ahmed didn’t want to be a burden on her. He refused to let failure overwhelm him. Remembering his father’s words, he knew he needed to do all that was possible to succeed. He learned from his friends about the catch up classes offered by World Vision in partnership with Al Ghad organization, and he went to the school to meet the facilitator, Fahd. Little did he know at the time, he was about to make a bond that would totally change his life.
Fahd, the facilitator of the program, recalls the first encounter, “When Ahmed came to the school, I was in the car getting ready to leave. Someone at the door of the school told him that I was the facilitator of the program. He told me that he had a request. I stepped out of the car to listen to him. He said that he has lost his father and that he only makes 10 thousand Iraqi Dinar (around $8 USD) a week to make ends meet. He was tearful and was desperate to pass the exam. He said he wouldn’t mind sitting on the floor to just be able to listen to the classes so that he could pass. Despite the fact that classes had already started and reached the target (with a full class), I thought that he was in great need. I registered him and I allowed him to take the classes.” At that time Ahmed was doing odd jobs to make a living for his family and would sometimes come late to the class, but Fahd would ask the teachers to give him classes after hours.
With Fahd’s continued follow up on Ahmed and a great effort from his side, Ahmed eventually took the exam and passed it.
When thinking about his experience with the classes, Ahmed shared, “I benefited from the catch up classes a lot. I met with the facilitator Fahd. He stood by my side and if not for him, I would have never passed. Fahd was great. Fahd cared for me. I loved him. He told me, ‘I am your father and your brother and anything you want, I will do it for you.’ My relatives wouldn’t have said the same to me.”
Fahd shared, “Ahmed is a boy with great potential. Although he is a small child, he has a big mind. When you talk to him, you would think you were talking to someone who is 50 years old. He is taking responsibility for his family.”
Today, despite the fond memories of his dad teaching him to be an Imam, he has a new inspiration for what he would like to become. “When I grow up, I want to be a teacher,” said Ahmed. “It is good from the financial side. In the summer holidays I can do another job, and after 12 o’clock (when the job as a teacher ends for the day) I can do extra work.”
World Vision in partnership with Al Ghad Organization and through funding from the Japan Platform (JPF) provided catch up classes to 800 students, 400 boys and 400 girls in 2019. Many boys and girls like Ahmed have missed years of education due to conflict. It is easy to get discouraged when unable to pass the exams. After attending the catch up classes, 83% of the students have successfully passed their exams.
Ahmed’s father knew the power of education. Through programming like catch up classes, World Vision works to support children like Ahmed in having a brighter future.