Huthayfa Abduljabbar is providing books and backpacks to Iraqi children living in poverty so they can stay in school
The first day of school can be nerve-wracking, particularly if you’re too poor to afford the right kit. For some children in Baghdad whose families can’t afford stationary and a backpack, it’s enough to make them skip school. “Some just leave, others try and stay but get bullied till eventually, they leave too,” says Abduljabbar. He’s seen it happen countless times, children from impoverished communities missing out on education for want of basic school supplies.
The Shelter Organization: Helping Provide School Supplies
His response is Colour Your Life, a project run through The Shelter Organization providing backpacks and other school supplies to children in Baghdad’s poorest communities. It’s difficult to imagine the depth of want in some of these neighborhoods, which Abduljabbar describes as “worse than ghettos” – make-shift shelters built on illegal land where families struggle to survive. Many rely on handouts to feed six or more children. Most barely get by.
“There are cases where the kids don’t have a backpack, but their families force them to go to school anyway, so they carry their books in plastic bags. Often they become victims of bullying, so they stop going to class,” Abduljabbar says.
He has volunteered in the NGO sector for many years and knows the importance of addressing the problem at its root. The Shelter Organization, which he founded in 2016, works to empower communities by helping family members find jobs, so their children are more likely to stay in school. “The local authority has lists of children who don’t show up for school, so we go to their homes to find out why and see whether we can supply the intervention needed,” he says.
It’s not always as simple as showing up and offering support. It takes time to build trust in these communities, where suspicion of outsiders has been reinforced by unscrupulous organizations exploiting the situation to make money. But Abduljabbar is known and respected in these neighborhoods, which grants him access to people’s homes and over time, local families have come to appreciate the work he is doing. “At first, they treated us like government employees, but once we started helping them they began to trust us more and were very happy and thankful for the support.”
Abduljabbar has secured an Innovation Hub grant from Ideas Beyond Borders and will use it to focus on providing school supplies to the poorest families he works with, particularly those where male members have been killed in the war against Isis. “Many children have been left with only their mothers to provide for the whole family so their need for assistance is even greater. For these mums, their priority is to feed their kids, which makes going to school a luxury. Many just don’t go,” Abduljabbar says.
He hopes to reach more than 500 children through Color Their Life, with plans to target more in the future as the project evolves. “Sometimes the smallest intervention like a rucksack for school books can have a profound impact,” says Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, President of Ideas Beyond Borders. “The Shelter Organization understands the needs of the communities it supports and knows how they can be addressed to help people pursue better lives.”