UK Film Campaigner Gets Iraqi Refugee Kids Back to School
McLibel filmmaker Franny Armstrong has just helped over forty Iraqi refugee children to get back to school for the first time in three years, by publishing details of their plight in a regular newsletter from her production company Spanner Films.
Armstrong is currently in Amman, Jordan, where she is filming the plight of some of the one million Iraqi refugees, who fled there for safety so far, from unrest verging on civil war, in their homeland.
Readers of her newsletter responded to the Iraqi children's plight by reaching for their credit cards and donating to a special appeal fund. Some refugee children were able to benefit immediately and attend school from the start of the new academic year.
Armstrong reports: "One of the things that has shocked us most is that the Iraqi refugee kids here are not going to school - not because they're not allowed, but because they can't afford the fees. Yet the cost for one year for one kid are £55 pounds for primary school and £62 for secondary.
"All the kids we've met are desperate to learn and many are extremely traumatised that time is passing them by"
"And we're not talking whinging British kids complaining about school being boring. All the kids we've met are desperate to learn and many are extremely traumatised that time is passing them by. Lots of them haven't been to school since 2003 and are well aware how big a difference three years makes. They very much equate school with learning and finding good jobs and getting themselves out of their current terrible situations.
"Seems so outrageous that they are suffering so much - even more - for the lack of sucha small amount of money. Especially when you consider that the US and UK spent 200 billion dollars, or whatever it was, destroying their country."
Armstrong was so moved by the plight of these refugee children she decided to do something about it and set up a donations page on her website where people can make donations to help these children get back to school.
People have already responded generously and within three days of launching the appeal the first children have already been enabled to go to school and enough has been received to help over forty of them get back to the classroom.
"Three days after the appeal went out, 41 Iraqi refugee kids have been sponsored," says Armstrong, "and 18 have already started school. Lizzie (Franny Armstrong's assistant) and Khulood (local organiser) went to hand over your cash at six schools yesterday. The kids were signed onto the register, collected their books and were in classes by 9.30am!
Armstrong has built a reputation as a filmmaker in helping to exposing injustices, including the infamous McLibel case where two British food campaigners had to defend themselves against international fast food giant Mcdonald and won, as well as the flooding of the Narmada river valley in India where thousands of villagers have been displaced from their ancestral lands but not given adequate compensation. With these Iraqi refugee children, poverty is also at the heart of the problem.
"One mother we met in the registration office said she'd decided to sell the family's fridge to pay for her son's fees."
"One mother we met in the registration office said she'd decided to sell the family's fridge to pay for her son's fees. Needless to say - not least because it's 35 degrees in Amman at the moment - she was absolutely delighted not to have to do that and wished all the sponsors "a good life"."
There is no shortage of children who want t take up places, the only shortage is for money to pay the modest fees for the schools - and news of donations made through Spanner spread quickly, fuelling more demand.
"We only had 17 kids in the original group," says Armstrong, "but the word has got out and Khulood's phone is ringing itself crazy with more families hoping their children can go back to school. Even a random taxi driver asked whether we could find a sponsor for his nephew."
Khulood, an Iraqi refugee herself, says: "This is the biggest project I have ever taken on - and I can't believe how quickly it has all happened. We only thought of the idea two weeks ago when we were interviewing the kids for Franny & Lizzie's film. Meeting all the mothers is so emotional - they are so grateful to all the sponsors and wish that they could meet them all to say thank you and shake their hands. And, personally, this work is making me so happy. I truly find myself when I am helping other people."
Still lots more kids wanting to go to school, so if you or anyone you've ever met would like to sponsor one, you can do so by credit card right here.