Iraq 2016: From Mosul to Mission East

Abdullah Said, a 21-year old Iraqi IT student, has escaped twice from the terrorist movement Islamic State. Now he is taking care of small children in one of Mission East’s child centres – in a camp where he is living himself.

By Kim Wiesener, Communications Officer

The chemistry is obvious. When Abdullah Said teaches Arabic writing to boys and girls of kindergarten age, everyone is smiling and laughing. Learning should be fun, and it is when he is working with three- to five-year-old kids at the Mission East Child Friendly Space at Nazrawa Camp.

For the last couple of years, however, the life of the 21-year old IT student has been anything but fun. Twice he has had to flee from Islamic State, but now he is part of a team of six ‘educators’ who are working part-time at the child centre. They teach and play with the children, and they are themselves displaced from their homes due to the conflict in Iraq.

Empty streets

In 2014, Abdullah Said was a student in the major city of Mosul when it was occupied by Islamic State. “They came suddenly,” he recalled. “We were having lessons when a curfew was announced. We heard the sound of mortar fire, and the streets emptied. After a couple of days, many students decided to leave town. We heard that Daesh (Arabic acronym for IS) were getting nearer.”

Luckily for Abdullah, most IS fighters were on the right bank of the Tigris River while he was on the left bank. So, he managed to get away – initially to Erbil, the main city of the Kurdistan region, and later to his home village in Dibis district near the city of Kirkuk. It took him three days to get home. Later, he had to flee again – this time with his family – when IS came perilously close to Dibis: “We were in danger and wanted to get to a safer place,” he explained.

Abdullah now lives at Nazrawa Camp with his family. His father is dead, and as the oldest of seven siblings he carries a particular responsibility. This also means that he is used to taking care of smaller children, and this is evident when he handles the children at the centre with a combination of friendly humour and authority.

Studies in Kirkuk

Being responsible for his family may also be part of the explanation why Abdullah really wants to achieve something in his life. He was able to transfer his IT studies from Mosul to an educational establishment in Kirkuk where he studies every weekend. In less than a year, he will finish his education.

This also means that he will not return to Mosul, even if it should be liberated. He is eagerly following developments in the city where he started his studies, but for him, the future lies somewhere else – preferably with a base in his home village.

The present is shared between his studies in Kirkuk and his life in Nazrawa Camp. An important part of that life is his work as an educator at the child centre: “I like working with kids,” Abdullah Said said with a smile – and you believe him.

The original Danish language version of this article was published in a special edition of the Mission East magazine to commemorate the organisation's 25-year Jubilee in November 2016.