Student helps bring children together

Coventry student brings friendship to children 3,000 miles apart.

More than 150 children have extended the hand of friendship 3,000 miles between the UK and Iraq in the latest Coventry-run project to promote peace and reconciliation.

The Let’s be Friends project aims to tackle stereotypes and promote 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 inspired seventy pupils from Warwickshire and Windsor who painted t-shirts with handprints and messages of friendship for Iraqi children living in refugee camps after fleeing their homes to escape extremism. And it will now be rolled out to pupils in Coventry in hope of helping as many young people as possible understand the struggles being faced by so many young people.

Launched by Coventry University graduate Zinah Mohammed, the idea is for children in both counties to see how they share similarities and learn about another way of life –without the need for money or a common language.

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. Run from her student home of Coventry, the city of peace and reconciliation, she hopes to encourage future generations to work towards peace and coexistence.

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 about 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.”

Refugee camps have been set up across Iraq to house internally displaced families who fled their cities to escape the threat of extremist group ISIS and war. Zinah, who graduated from a masters in International Business Law in November, will send t-shirts to seventy children living in camps who will then return a handmade shirt to England. She also hopes to share pictures and video calls between the children.

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.

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