OVER 150 Coventry school children have offered their friendship to child refugees in Iraq as part of a pioneering educational project.
The Coventry-run ‘Let’s be Friends Project’ aims at promoting peace and reconciliation through contact with children in refugee camps in Iraq, according to Coventry council.
Project leaders say it aims to tackle stereotypes and boost understanding by asking school pupils to guess the nationalities of children based on photographs and by sharing their stories and building friendships across borders.
The scheme has already been piloted elsewhere, with 70 pupils from Warwickshire and Windsor painting t-shirts with handprints and messages of friendship for Iraqi children living in refugee camps.
The project was launched by Coventry University graduate, Zinah Mohammed.
She said the idea is for children in both countries to see how they share similarities and learn about another way of life.
Zinah, an Iraqi national, has worked with Our Lady’s Saint Teresa Catholic Primary School in Leamington Spa, and the Royal School in Windsor to get creative and share her own story of leaving everything she knew to find safety.
The 26-year-old who grew up in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein’s rule, said: “This is not just about children sharing a t-shirt to begin a friendship, it is also about the stereotypes around Iraqi people like me.
“I shared my story with children about how war changed my life, but how it never stopped me from dreaming big and achieving my ambitions.
“The whole idea is to build a peaceful connection that children wouldn’t usually have access to.
“It is just one way of teaching them how similar we all are and remind us all of the value of dialogue and coexistence.
“The response here has been amazing, young people were so keen to learn about what others their age are going through and wanted to write their names in Arabic for the Iraqi children to understand.
“When countries all over the world are suffering from extremism or divisions we must not forget that we all share humanity.
“If we can educate people on the power of friendship, dialogue and tolerance then I believe we can make real differences”.
The scheme is part of Zinah’s work with the Prince’s Trust International Leadership programme with which she is one of 54 international delegates chosen for their potential to make positive changes in their communities.
Before moving to Coventry in 2016, the law graduate set up the Shine Together charity team in her home city to take emergency supplies of food, cooking utensils, and clothes to hundreds of families in camps.