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World

Schools Begin To Open After ISIS Is Ousted From Mosul

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

On the eastern side of the Iraqi city of Mosul, schools are slowly getting back to normal again. ISIS was forced out of that part of the city a couple of months ago by Iraqi forces and their U.S. allies. ISIS still holds the western side of the city. NPR's Alice Fordham went to visit a newly reopened school.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Foreign language spoken).

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: At first sight, this is like recess in any elementary school - that same buzz of kids' energy bouncing off concrete walls, lighting up a gray winter day.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

FORDHAM: But for more than two years, this neighborhood was under ISIS control, and most children were kept out of school. I ask a 13-year-old called Ali Hussein how it feels to be back.

ALI HUSSEIN: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: Happy.

ALI: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: I wasn't afraid of anything, he says, but I had to stay at home. Most parents were horrified by the ISIS curriculum, which was all about violence.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: But as of about two months ago, the school is once more being run by the education ministry because, after heavy fighting, Iraq's security forces are back in control of the area.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: The boys are bundled up in coats because there's no heat, and there's no electric light, either - not yet. But they're grinning in the gloom as they learn a poem.

SAEB ALI: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: Really, it's like I was born again, says the principal, Saeb Ali, when I ask how it felt to reopen the school. About 70 of East Mosul's 400 schools have reopened, and many more are set to follow. ISIS told the principal not to bother coming to work while they were in charge.

ALI: (Through interpreter) I was unemployed. I had absolutely nothing to do, and we spent all our savings. Our money was gone. We sold our women's gold so we could live.

FORDHAM: The teachers still haven't been paid yet, but say they feel a duty to come back to work. One of them, Zina al-Sheheishi, tells me that Mosul prides itself on its educated people.

ZINA AL-SHEHEISHI: (Through interpreter) When the school closed, we felt that life stopped. ISIS came, and education halted. We will continue to suffer from everything that happened. Students have forgotten things. We will have to teach them again.

FORDHAM: She means it will be hard for the children to catch up on years of missed education, even though many parents tried hard with home school. I speak via Skype with Peter Hawkins of the U.N.'s children's agency, UNICEF.

PETER HAWKINS: It is a difficult environment still, but we're trying to bring that normalcy to it - helps to children. And just this normal way of life - just being able to go to school, being able to interact, play...

FORDHAM: UNICEF is helping rehabilitate Mosul's schools - fixing windows broken in the fighting, for instance, and trying to figure out crash courses to help children catch up on missed school.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: Back in the schoolyard, there's a roll call for children to pick up new books.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: But there are names missing. The teachers tell me some of the missing students families had fled the city and still hadn't returned. Others - their families joined ISIS. And when Iraqi security forces took back East Mosul, those families fled to the west of the city, where they and their children are now under siege and awaiting an uncertain fate. Alice Fordham, NPR News, Mosul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.