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UEL lecturer braves risky trip to northern Iraq to help bring education to children fleeing conflicts

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Dr Kathryn Kraft hears heart-breaking horror stories of fear and suffering on visit to northern Iraq

A University of East London (UEL) academic has recently returned from a dramatic and “heart-rending” trip to northern Iraq in an attempt to bring much-needed education to thousands of children and teenagers fleeing the conflict in the region. 
 
Dr Kathryn Kraft, a lecturer in international development and herself a Christian, conducted a week-long trip to camps and host communities in northern Iraq as part of a fact-finding mission on behalf of Served – a new Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) focused on bringing local Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical churches and education providers together for the benefit of children in conflict zones. 
 
Dr Kraft, who was recently appointed as Served’s head of research along with research consultant and legal advisor Suzanne Noukahoua, have been looking into how Served can partner with global Christian satellite TV station Sat-7 to deliver teacher-training and essential literacy and numeracy to displaced people arriving in the region.   
 
She recounted stories told to her by parents she met in refugee camps which are currently home to up to 1,800 families and during visits to internally displaced Iraqis living in host communities.
 
Dr Kraft said, “Mothers and fathers would tell me how they fled Daesh (ISIS) at night, often being given 24 hours’ notice to escape or face the real threat of enslavement and death.” 
 
Some of the most heart-breaking stories were from Yazidi families, who are often singled out for torture and execution.
 
“They lack the international network of moral and material support that the Christians have,” said Dr Kraft. “It seems that fewer than half of the Yazidi children are attending school, and many are living in sub-standard shelters.”
 
Dr Kraft explained that the first thing parents wanted for their children was education.
 
“In the Middle East there is a strong desire to provide a good future for their children, especially through education.  
 
“Children might lose a few months of schooling, but to lose years of schooling is like losing a generation, and risking the next generation succumbing to extremism.”
 
Despite being forced to take refuge in semi-finished buildings with little or no water or electricity, Dr Kraft said parents and young children were still eager to learn.
 
“The demand is huge,” she said. “There are schools operating three shifts a day, with classes of 50 to 250 children, but they do not have the resources and one-to-one support they need at the moment.” 
 
Dr Kraft said that another effect of the rise of Daesh in the region was the divisions that had been sown between Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian and Yazidi communities, who had previously lived and studied peacefully alongside each other. 
 
“One teacher I spoke to explained how trust had broken down,” said Dr Kraft. “Once Daesh arrived, things changed. Neighbours, perhaps out of fear, would side with Daesh and turn on their neighbours whom they had known for years.
 
“One teacher told me, ‘After my neighbours turned on me, how can I trust anymore? But I know the ability to trust is something inside my heart. I nurture it and teach that to my students’.” 
 
Dr Kraft said she remained hopeful that the contributions of NGOs such as Served and the services of Sat-7 would bring about a better and more peaceful future of the youth of Iraq through improved quality of education and alternative forms of education such as training of faith-based networks and educational Satellite television.