Friday, March 20, 2009

A boy's education held hostage - March 7 09

We delivered food assistance to Um Tariq's home and when we asked what their biggest challenge is, Um Tariq did not hesitate: her son, Tariq's education.

Tariq had been attending a private school where he had received partial support from an aid organization to pay the tuition. A very bright boy, he had high marks in all of his classes and enjoyed school tremendously. But this was his last year at this school as it was only for students through his grade level. He wanted to continue his education and attend the next level at a public school as his parents cannot afford to pay tuition.

When Um Tariq went to the school to get his transcripts to give to the public school, she was told that his records would not be released until past due tuition was paid. The 300JD ($420) amount was, for this impoverished family, beyond their ability to pay all at once. Um Tariq tried negotiating with the school, asking them to allow her to make payments and begging them to release her son's records so that he could continue attending school. They refused and told her she must go to the aid organization that helps with education for Iraqis and get the money from them.

She tried but her family had received the maximum amount per family already. When we visited, Tariq had been sitting home for months, feelingbored, frustrated and depressed. He had continued studying on his own but this would not satisfy requirements to rejoin his class level if he was able to get his transcripts to attend public school. He also had missed the important final exam and was preparing himself to take it - hoping he would somehow get the opportunity somehow. Maha admired Tariq's dedication to his education and said she would try to help.

Maha and I accompanied Um Tariq for another visit to Tariq's last school to see if there was a solution. Luckily, the headmaster was out for the day and we were directed to speak with one of Tariq's teachers instead. Um Tariq told us that this teacher had been the most sympathetic and supportive of Tariq so we were hopeful.

After an hour of Maha's gentle but persistent pursuasion, the teacher reluctantly relented and said that the school would release Tariq's records if a payment of 100JD was made. Maha paid this from money donated by wealthy Iraqi donors in Amman. But, when Um Tariq asked when she would receive the transcripts, the teacher suggested she return after the weekend "alone" to retrieve them. Maha, sensitive that the instruction for Um Tariq to return "alone" would likely mean that the records would not be released. Again Maha gently argued that this was not acceptable and made it clear we would not leave until we had the records in our hands that day. Five minutes later we left with them!

Iraqi donor funds paid for Tariq to take his missed final exam at another school so that he can be admitted to the public school soon. A small triumph that has life-long benefits for this boy.

Many Iraqi students find road blocks thrown up before them that resident students do not usually face. The Iraqi donor funds, Maha's pursuasive skills and determination, and probably the presence of an American interested in this case facilitated Tariq being able to complete his education. But many children and their parents are left on their own to contend with a system that sometimes discriminates against them solely because they are Iraqi.

I will be going to visit the head masters of two public schools soon to politely advocate for a couple of young students who are strongly considering leaving school altogether because the teaching staff are being abusive. It will be a test of my skills in diplomacy that I cannot allow myself to fail. You'll be able to read how effective I have been on this blog soon.