Mobile bus school plants seeds of education for Iraqi displaced children

BAGHDAD (Xinhua) – At a forgotten slum in the southeast of Baghdad, capital of Iraq, a glimmer of hope shines in the hearts and minds of dozens of internal displaced children as a non-governmental organisation (NGO) turned a large old bus into a mobile school.

It is named “Hope Bus,” the seats of which were removed and replaced with school desks for as many as 50 pupils, and was furnished with colourful curtains, loudspeakers, a television set and a blackboard.

According to the Iraqi law, children without national IDs or above seven years old cannot attend the government schools.

Ikhlas Kadhim, one of the 32 girls in the 48-pupil class, has no documents because her family moved from another province to escape the battles against Islamic State (IS) militants.

“I’ve heard of the Hope Bus from a child in the neighbourhood, so I asked my parents to enrol in the bus,” said Kadhim, looking happy with her bag filled with colourful books, copybooks and pencils.

A teacher hands out juice to displaced children on the “Hope Bus” in Baghdad, capital of Iraq. – PHOTOS: XINHUA
Displaced children leave for home after one day’s study on the “Hope Bus” in Baghdad, capital of Iraq
A girl looks outside of a window on the ‘Hope Bus’, the seats of which were removed and replaced with school desks for as many as 50 pupils, and furnished with colourful curtains, loudspeakers, a television set and a blackboard

“I always wished to be like my brothers going to school to learn in order to teach the children in the future,” the 10-year-old girl added.

The bus idea was proposed by Firas al-Baiyati, a lawyer and head of the “Gate of Justice,” the NGO that runs the bus school.

“Our organisation is taking care of displaced children and gives a chance for those who are deprived of school opportunities,” Baiyati told Xinhua.

“One night, I was thinking how we can help those vulnerable children, then I wrote in my papers the idea of mobile school that can reach the farthest point at those poor and neglected slums,” Baiyati said.

The organisation chose to stop the mobile bus at the al-Rasheed camp which shelters thousands of poor families.

The children in the bus use the same textbooks at the government schools. They are taught reading, writing, arithmetic, science and English letters.

They also receive psychological support, and practise sports or artistic activities in the field where the bus stops.

“The initiative of the Hope Bus is not only to provide tutoring, but also to provide nutrition, healthcare, social services to stop children labour, as well as fun for orphans, street kids and displaced children who are at risk in one of Baghdad’s poorest slums,” Baiyati said.

His organisation plans to open 12 more mobile schools across the provinces liberated from the IS militant group.

“I will sign a contract with the Iraqi government in March to open 12 Hope Buses in the provinces of Nineveh, Salahudin, Kirkuk, Anbar and Diyala,” he said.

Zahra Kareem, a female teacher of the Arabic language, believes she is doing a humanitarian job more than teaching as the children and their families are victims of difficult circumstances in the country.

“We are trying to compensate what those children had lost from education, social and psychological care. We want to integrate them into the society,” Kareem said.

She managed to create a distinctively close relationship with the children, many of whom even confide to her their special secrets back at home.

As a mobile bus school, the al-Rasheed camp is merely its first stop.

Eight months later, the Hope Bus will move to another area to plant new seeds of education for another group of Iraqi children.