Equity & Diversity

Leaving Violence Behind, 5th Grader Returns to School

By Mary Ann Zehr & Yasmine Mousa — February 06, 2008 4 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Kerrar Fathil, 11, doesn’t talk with his friends at school about what happened to his family back in Iraq.

In the summer of 2003, four months after a U.S.-led coalition of armed forces occupied the country, masked Iraqi men woke up Kerrar and his family in the middle of the night in their home in Baghdad. They took away the boy’s father, a retired civil servant who had recently been trained as a policeman. Kerrar, his mother, and two of his six sisters soon fled to Syria and then on to Amman, Jordan. The youngster never saw his father again.

The family is among the estimated half million Iraqis now living in Jordan, according to Imran Riza, a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In a Feb. 3 interview, he said that only in this past year has the international community really started to pay attention to the plight of Iraqis displaced by the war. Only about 100,000 of the Iraqis living in Jordan now were here before 2003, according to Mr. Riza.

The violence and displacement has disrupted the education of thousands of those children, many of whom are just getting back to the classroom.

Kerrar’s mother, Mehdia Jaber Awad, who is in her early 50s, says she learned from relatives that her husband was killed. She suffers from ulcers and convulsions that she said began after he was abducted. “I will never go back to Iraq,” she vows.

As Kerrar’s mother talks about her husband’s abduction, Kerrar sighs and looks away from her. He concentrates on repeatedly smoothing the fabric on a cushion. When asked if he and his Iraqi friends at school talk about how they were affected by the war, the boy replies that they don’t. “This is private life,” he says.

Unlike his mother, Kerrar, who has a pleasant smile, answers questions with little elaboration. On this day, he’s wearing a warm sweat suit because this desert region has been hit with as much as 19 inches of snow, and the temperature is not much above freezing. The family stays gathered around a small, electric space heater.

In Amman, Kerrar’s life revolves around soccer. That’s what he and his best friend at school, another Iraqi boy, talk about most of the time between classes, he says. When soccer teams are formed in physical education classes, Kerrar says the other boys want him on their team. He dreams of playing the sport professionally.

Time Out

Kerrar attends 5th grade at Mohammed Al-Sheraiqi School in his neighborhood in western Amman. It’s a Jordanian public school, and his family is taking advantage of a government decree issued this past summer that allows Iraqi children to enroll in public schools in Jordan this school year regardless of their legal status. Karrar’s family have been recognized as refugees by the UNHCR, but they don’t have legal residency in Jordan.

When she heard the decree, Ms. Awad says she danced in the street with joy, because it meant that her son and her daughter who is still school age, 16-year-old Shireen Fathil, could receive a free education.

Iraqi refugees Zehra’a Hadyer, 12, far left, Shireen Fathil, 16, Sajad Hadyer, 10, and Kerrar Fathil, 11, live together in Amman, Jordan. The Fathils are the Hadyers' aunt and uncle.

Shireen, who had missed four years of school before enrolling in a Jordanian public school this past fall, now attends 8th grade with Jordanian children who are much younger than she.

Ms. Awad sold some pieces of gold jewelry so that Kerrar could enroll in a private school during the 2005-06 school year, after he’d missed two years of school. The boy’s uncles also helped to pay the tuition. The cost to the family to send Kerrar to that school was 750 Jordanian dinars, or JD, a year, including 250 JD for transportation. ($1 U.S. is equal to .70 of a JD, or about two-thirds of a dinar.) Now, three months behind on the rent for her apartment, Kerrar’s mother says she can’t afford a private school. She and her daughters don’t have permission to work legally in Jordan, so they depend on the charity of others.

In the private school, Kerrar, who was 9 at the time, was put in 1st grade—the grade he was in back in Baghdad when his schooling was interrupted. His mother says that during that first year in the private school, “he used to come back crying because the other students were younger, and he couldn’t blend in well.”

But Kerrar was enrolled in a Jordanian public school in 4th grade last year, and he is now in 5th grade. Out of about 50 students in his grade, he can think of about eight who are Iraqis. He says that school is hard. His best subject is Arabic, in his view. He’s still struggling to know his times tables in math. He’s happy to be in school, the boy says.

Kerrar is proud that he’s picked up the Jordanian dialect of Arabic, which is different from his native Iraqi dialect. “I speak Jordanian,” he says. “They can’t recognize me [as Iraqi] if I’m in the street.”

Ms. Awad has applied for assistance at the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Amman. She’s also applied to that agency for the opportunity to resettle in another country. But so far, she hasn’t received any aid from the UNHCR or response to her requests for resettlement, she says. She has a sister who recently moved to Phoenix, Ariz., and a daughter who is living with her husband in Sweden and seeking legal residency there.

Kerrar thinks it would be nice to move to Sweden, since one of his sisters is there. He’s not looking back to Iraq.

Related Tags:

Yasmine Mousa is a freelance reporter and Arabic-English interpreter.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity District That Banned Diverse Books Reverses Its Decision After Pushback
A Pennsylvania district voted unanimously to reinstate a four-page list of resources from some of today's most acclaimed creators of color.
Tina Locurto, The York Dispatch, Pa.
3 min read
Image of books on a library shelf.
iStock/Getty
Equity & Diversity Reported Essay Do Students Have What They Need? One Survey Looks to Answer That Question
Even before the pandemic started, one state started thinking about how to understand student needs better. That plan accelerated with the virus.
4 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Reported Essay What the Indian Caste System Taught Me About Racism in American Schools
Born and raised in India, reporter Eesha Pendharkar isn’t convinced that America’s anti-racist efforts are enough to make students of color feel like they belong.
7 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Reported Essay Our Student Homeless Numbers Are Staggering. Schools Can Be a Bridge to a Solution
The pandemic has only made the student homelessness situation more volatile. Schools don’t have to go it alone.
5 min read
Conceptual illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week