Lack of funds threatens Ramadi education centre

The Ramadi-based centre Sanad — Arabic for “support” — offers more than support.
Sunday 21/10/2018
Iraqi children display certificates of excellence awarded by Sanad in Ramadi in Anbar province.  (Sanad)
A glimmer of hope. Iraqi children display certificates of excellence awarded by Sanad in Ramadi in Anbar province. (Sanad)

Like a blooming wildflower pushing through ruin and rubble across former Islamic State-held cities, an educational centre is under threat of closure only about a year after it was established.

The Ramadi-based centre Sanad — Arabic for “support” — offers more than support. As a safe child-friendly space where curiosity is fed and basic literacy and number skills are taught, the centre is testimony to the strength of grass-roots organisations navigating a transition in which the state is not felt or visible.

Sanad was born out of a greater initiative led by local charity Wasel Tasel helping to manage the needs of orphans in north-western territories and parents caring for children 18 months or younger.

The venue that provincial authorities offered includes classrooms, a children’s library, playroom, a resource centre and activities hall. The centre’s operation would have been unthinkable without the efforts of dedicated volunteers. Yet, without necessary funding, its sustainability is under threat.

For the past four months, the donor-reliant centre has received no funds, raising fears of its potential closure. “The funding tap has been turned off. Not even the faintest trickle can be felt,” centre Manager Yasser Adnan said.

The future is uncertain but locals and practitioners are hard pressed for solutions and may have to turn their backs on the locally driven initiative.

Forcibly displaced from their own homes and eager to help others, the centre’s founders are young people from areas disparagingly portrayed in the Western media as hotspots of Islamic fundamentalist terror.

The history of Anbar, the province in which Ramadi lies, took a turn for the worse when, in 2006, al-Qaeda exploited the opening the US occupation of Iraq presented and transformed cities famed for their mosque minarets into strongholds. In June 2014, history repeated as the Islamic State (ISIS) entrenched itself in the western Iraqi plains after the army melted away.

A paramilitary umbrella force has arisen in its place, safeguarding, as the state claims, victories against ISIS. Outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited Ramadi a day after the city’s liberation was announced in December 2015 but has not returned or shown a vested interest in helping its population get back on their feet through state-sponsored educational initiatives.

As reports published this year show, the war cost Iraq almost $48 billion in infrastructural damages, uprooting most schools in Ramadi, Falluja and Mosul. Stabilising western territories following ISIS’s inconclusive expulsion has sent militarism into overdrive, as civilians navigate the precarious physical and mental circumstances. Rebuilding schools remains to be the most pressing — yet unmet — need for Ramadi and neighbouring cities in a country where the median age is 21.

The greatest accomplishment, also at risk of reversal, is the centre’s ability to respond to long-neglected female empowerment. A female educator said girls who have attended Sanad-run classes outnumber boys by an approximate 60-40 ratio. Encouraging the return of 20 primary-level educated schoolgirls stood out as the most meaningful accomplishment for the centre’s founders.

The centre has been experimenting with mixed-ability classes, merging strong and weak students. Such moves are not simply aimed at enhancing the intellectual development of children but boost healthy competition beyond the classroom to rouse interest from disinterested families.

The centre is also hosting supplementary English-language courses to help those seeking careers in pharmacy and medicine.

Its curriculum represents a shift in Iraq’s educational standards, not through religious-based learning but rather through secular teaching focused on critical thinking, collaborative work and cultural exchange.

However, low funding may strip even more girls of their educational rights, while tearing down the long list of successes Sanad has achieved. Thirty-five educational staff members have been trained at Sanad and its classes have absorbed an estimated 20 children whose collection and drop-off to and from school are covered by the centre.

The funds to keep this up no longer exist. “We’ve not received anything, neither local nor international, governmental nor non-governmental,” said the group’s director and co-founder, Mohammad Dylan.

Those affiliated with the centre have been given little choice other than to accept its likely closure. Sanad has stimulated work opportunities and furnished the conditions for entrepreneurial and educational growth.

Years of vacant promises and unproductively spent or siphoned funds have eroded the local population’s trust in the establishment of local schools. Still, education’s potential to stimulate hope, growth and a better future for subsequent generations still stands, as does its potential to drive social-civil rehabilitation.

Only through international support can the centre survive the funding drought, most felt in western Iraq.