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Iraqi Girls Struggle to Catch Up With Education After Fall of Saddam - 2003-07-07

At the Al–Auhood Girl’s School in just outside Baghdad, there’s great excitement. New school supplies are being delivered to help these youngsters complete the school year despite the two month disruption caused by the war. The school term has been extended by one month to make up for lost time.

UNICEF, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, is supplying the materials. "Normally, there’s about 900 girls here," explained UNICEF official Geoffrey Keele. "But since the war, the number has dropped to 500. And so part of delivering these supplies is to try and get girls to come back into school. Because particularly in small communities, when they hear that something has been brought to the school, they get quite excited, they want to take part in what is happening. And it really helps get the children back into school.”

UNICEF brings what it calls a “Classroom-in-a-Box” to the school. The kit has notebooks, pencils, pens, and other tools that have not been seen here in a while. Under the old regime of Saddam Hussein, there was not much money for education. "What happened in this country was that throughout the mid-seventies and eighties, there was a lot of investment in education. But the Iran-Iraq War cost this government so much money, that by 1985, they turned the tap off on social investment and we’ve had no new schools built since 1985."

One teacher says that because girls have been staying away, they have had to combine three classes into one.

The local religious leader emphasized the school needs an overhaul of its’ physical plant. “The school needs electricity and glass for the windows, painting, water-pipes, air-conditioning and heating, as well as stationary,” he said.

UNICEF officials are worried especially about how widespread poverty is, endangering girls’ chances of getting an education.

“Under the sanctions and the post Gulf-war era in this country, poverty levels went through the roof. You have girls actually going back into the home so that it frees the mother up to go out and get a job and earn cash for the family. And girls take over the duties of running the household. That is why one in three girls is not in school anymore.”