This post offers a glimpse into the impact of the EDGE Institute Pop-Up School, an informal education program for internally displaced children in Iraq. A generous grant from TentED provided funding for more than 100 children to participate from January – June 2017 in the village of Rikava in Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan. They sit on the side of a mountain, not unlike the mountains they were forced to leave behind nearly three years ago, when fighters swept in, bent on destroying those they did not know or understand. ISIS invaded through those mountains, pillaging Yazidi villages, killing men, stealing women and children, and forcing hundreds of thousands to leave the only lives they had ever known. Years later, these Yazidis, a religious minority group indigenous to Iraq, continue to live as refugees in their own country. Now, on a mountain much smaller and far away from their homes, kids like Nazhbeer, Natali, Jalila and Qasim sit. They shiver in the barren openness during winter months, and swelter under the relentless heat of the Iraqi sun in the summer. Even this mountain, though offering temporary, relative safety, does little to improve their situation. Lonely and vulnerable, Nazhbeer waits, watching the stretch of road that sweeps up the slope from the town in the valley to where his family has found shelter in a farm outbuilding provided by gracious hosts. Squinting, he keeps his eyes peeled for signs of a white pickup truck carrying the EDGE staff and volunteers. Finally, as the truck begins ascending the base of the hills and he makes out the faces of his friends – his teachers – he breaks into a wide grin and starts rallying the others.
A Yazidi girl smiles during a Pop-Up School session
Jalila will come running to the only school she has ever known. Displaced before she was able to start classes in Sinjar, she eagerly jumps into any activity offered by the EDGE team. She calls to Natali and Qasim, beckoning them to come as quickly as possible. Qasim struggles to the meeting place, which varies according to the weather. On the cold days, they meet in tents that a team of U.S. military veterans constructed for them to block the gusts of wind that made it so hard to concentrate. On hot days, they make their way to a small building with mud walls, hoping to escape the scorching sun. On a clear spring day, they simply sit on the side of the mountain, learning in the open air. They come, calling their friends on the way, until nearly one hundred students have clustered around the volunteers, eager to draw, or sing, or play, or paint – whatever the day holds.
For Natali, these meager hours represent her dream of returning home and back to a school in a building with desks and books, exams, and talk of university and a career. For Qasim, the activities offer a short time to forget the fact that he is now a disabled orphan, thanks to ISIS. At the Pop-Up School, he’s Qasim, loved and valued for the way he thinks and for his questions. For Nazhbeer, it’s a chance to make friends and explore new concepts. Pop-Up is not about test scores or advancing grades. It doesn’t follow the latest curriculum developments or turn out the highest-achieving students. But the experience radically changes young lives. EDGE shows up where no one else does, and provides opportunities for children seemingly forgotten by the world. It breathes hope and ignites light in dark situations, and we firmly believe it is impacting the future – for these kids and their families, and for Yazidis. Pop-Up is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed for families like these on this mountain. But in such a parched place, each drop makes a world of difference.