A Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) early childhood class in the town of Sharya celebrates the first day of Kindergarten. Photo: JRS Iraq

When he started kindergarten in 2021 at the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Arrupe Kindergarten in Sharya, Iraq, Naji cried and refused to enter the classroom.

A displaced Yazidi child from Sinjar, Naji had been extremely nervous, he preferred to stay alone inside the house and did not eat much.

Despite the efforts of his teachers to make him feel welcome, Naji remained guarded and hesitant. It was not until the teachers decided to reach out to his mother and requested her presence in school for a week that he gradually became at ease.

By the end of the academic school year, Naji had undergone a striking transformation. He was no longer fearful; he was engaged in school and at home, and he began to eat well again.

The dedicated support of his teachers and his family at the school, which is part of JRS Iraq’s Duhok Protection and Education Project supported by Canadian Jesuits International, clearly helped Naji. He was able to overcome psychosocial challenges resulting from his family’s displacement due to the genocide committed against Yazidis by the Islamic State Iraq, or ISIS, the jihadist militant group that emerged as an offshoot of Al Qaeda and has seized vast portions of Iraq and Syria since 2014.

JRS Iraq also operates two community centres for displaced people, with a special focus on survivors of the 2014 Yazidi genocide.
Aside from early childhood education, the project includes youth education and summer classes. It provides back-to-school kits for students, professional development training for teachers, and an intensive teacher training diploma through the University of St. Joseph, Lebanon.

The project responds to the needs of vulnerable children and youth, so that they can have access to safe, quality education. Other objectives include enhancing the resilience of Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) through access to adult education, awareness-raising and restorative outings, and improving their protection through accompaniment, advocacy, and by providing them with basic assistance and legal services.

A total of 1,132 children and youths (475 male and 657 female) were enrolled in classes at the JRS education centre in Sharya for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic year. Children and youth supported by education programmes are primarily from the displaced Yazidi community (90%), but around 10% are from vulnerable members of the Sharya host community, who are also Yazidi.

The project has celebrated several academic achievements: 215 kindergarten students successfully completed the early children education program during the 2021-2022 academic year, representing 94% of those enrolled.

Over two thirds of youth enrolled in the youth education programme “demonstrated improved academic performance through tests conducted at the beginning and end of their courses,” said JRS, adding that 91% passed major national exams. These exams will help lay the foundation for a better future for youth who have spent years living in limbo, said JRS.

The project responds to a critical need for support and services as the humanitarian crisis in Iraq continues to affect millions of people, including over 1 million displaced adults and 1.1 million children.

“Access to basic services, including education, remains a significant challenge, with 84% of households reporting difficulties,” says JRS in a report to CJI.

The situation is particularly dire for Yazidi families who have sought refuge in the Duhok governorate in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Duhok has the second highest number of IDPs in Iraq; many families have limited livelihood opportunities and a significant number continue to suffer from mental health issues as a result of their traumatic experiences and prolonged displacement.

Learn more about the project, including how you can support it: click here.