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.

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
Student Well-Being Webinar
Start Strong With Solid SEL Implementation: Success Strategies for the New School Year
Join Satchel Pulse to learn why implementing a solid SEL program at the beginning of the year will deliver maximum impact to your students.
Content provided by Satchel Pulse
Teaching Live Online Discussion Seat at the Table: How Can We Help Students Feel Connected to School?
Get strategies for your struggles with student engagement. Bring questions for our expert panel. Help students recover the joy of learning.
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
Science Webinar
Real-World Problem Solving: How Invention Education Drives Student Learning
Hear from student inventors and K-12 teachers about how invention education enhances learning, opens minds, and preps students for the future.
Content provided by The Lemelson Foundation

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 Citing Anti-Gay Discrimination, a Teacher of the Year Leaves the Classroom
Kentucky's 2022 Teacher of the Year Willie Carver Jr. said he had been unable to find support from his school administration.
Valarie Honeycutt Spears, Lexington Herald-Leader
3 min read
Montgomery County teacher and Kentucky Teacher of the Year, Willie Carver, in downtown Mt. Sterling, Ky., on May 11, 2022.
Montgomery County teacher and Kentucky Teacher of the Year, Willie Carver, in downtown Mt. Sterling, Ky., on May 11, 2022.
Arden Barnes for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Despite Supreme Court Ruling, Maine's Religious Schools Face Hurdle to State Tuition
The Supreme Court recently allowed religious schools to participate in a state tuition program.
4 min read
Bangor Christian Schools sophomore Olivia Carson, 15, of Glenburn, Maine, left, stands with her mother Amy while getting dropped off on the first day of school on August 28, 2018 in Bangor, Maine. The Carsons were one of three Maine families that challenged the prohibition on using public money to pay tuition at religious schools. The Supreme Court ruled that Maine can't exclude religious schools from a program that offers tuition aid for private education in towns that don't have public schools. (Gabor Degre/The Bangor Daily News via AP, File)
Equity & Diversity Proposed Title IX Overhaul: Key Questions on What's Next
The U.S. Department of Education's proposed rules covering sex discrimination in education enter the public comment process.
6 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during the 2022 National and State Teachers of the Year event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 27, 2022.
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks at a White House event in April.
Susan Walsh/AP
Equity & Diversity LGBTQ Students Would Get Explicit Protection Under Title IX Proposals
But the U.S. Department of Education did not include transgender participation in sports in the latest version of revised Title IX regulations.
6 min read
People wave pride flags and hold signs during a rally in support of LGBTQ students at Ridgeline High School, Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Millville, Utah. Students and school district officials in Utah are outraged after a high school student ripped down a pride flag to the cheers of other students during diversity week. A rally was held the following day in response to show support for the LGBTQ community.
People wave pride flags and hold signs during a 2021 rally in support of LGBTQ students at Ridgeline High School in Millville, Utah.
Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP