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With Mosul free of ISIS, children have fun again

By Alaa Hussain in Baghdad

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Mosul children attend a grand festival in the gardens of al-Kafaat al-Ula park on the east side of the city. [Photo from the Ninawa First Facebook page]

Colourful balloons filled the sky in a scene Mosul has not seen in years, as the gardens of al-Kafaat al-Ula park on the east side of the city filled with hundreds of children attending a grand festival with their parents.

In previous years, under "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) rule, Mosul looked very different: instead of being a playground for children, it was more like a prison camp, indoctrinating them into the culture of hatred and violence.

The festival, organised by 30 activists with the Ninawa First organisation and held on the third day of the Eid al-Adha holiday, attempted to change all that, and open a new chapter for the city's long-suffering children.

The festival opened with the following message: "Accompany your children and teach them love and peace. Enjoy your time at a festival that puts joy in children’s hearts weary of war."

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Mosul children wave Iraqi flags as a symbol of national unity during a grand festival in Mosul organised by Ninawa First. [Photo from the Ninawa First Facebook page]

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Volunteers blow up balloons during a recent festival for children in Mosul organised by Ninawa First. [Photo from the Ninawa First Facebook page]

Families brought their children to the park, as Iraqi police forces stood guard, to enjoy a range of artistic and recreational events and activities.

These included plays staged by Institute of Fine Arts students to promote the theatrical arts, a drawing exhibition and various contests.

Erasing the effects of war

"The festival aims to rid children of the effects of war and destruction and provide therapy for their poor psychological states caused by the suffering they endured over the past three years," said festival co-ordinator Laith al-Rashidi.

"The festival is the first of its kind to be held in the province since it was liberated from the grip of the ISIS terrorist group," he said.

More than 3,000 people attended the festival from both sides of the city, including 600 children, he said.

They thoroughly enjoyed the various parts of the festival and responded strongly to the exhibition of photographs by Ahmed Hazem, a photographer who documented the displacement of the city's children, al-Rashidi added.

"Parents were enthusiastic to attend any event that would relieve their children from the tragedies of the past period, and many businessmen and civil institutions donated gifts to the children who attended," he said.

"Ninawa First also received many requests to replicate the experience and open other recreational outlets to support the children of Mosul," he said.

Together under one tent

Festival competition co-ordinator Bashar Adnan told Diyaruna the organisers made sure to bring together the full spectrum of Mosul society.

"It was not confined to Arabs to the exclusion of Kurds, or Sunnis to the exclusion of Shia," he said. "People of all ethnicities and sects participated."

"Our objective was to bring together all Iraqis in one inclusive event, based on citizenship, not sect or race," he added.

"We want to teach children that they have only one flag, the Iraqi flag, that there is no discrimination between the components of the same population, and that the future is ahead of them to realise all their dreams," Adnan said.

The ISIS era had an adverse effect on Mosul’s children, he said, noting that as all children are easily influenced by what they see and hear, Mosul’s children were bound to be affected by the scenes of killing and destruction.

"We are working to address the situation and seek to re-educate them in accordance with the unified national principles," he said.

"It is going to take more time and effort to accomplish the task; one festival is not enough to get it done."

More activities planned

Adnan said he is currently preparing to take part in two other festivals with children's art groups in Mosul, both of which are aimed at developing the skills and cultivating the artistic, literary and cultural capabilities of the city's children.

"Many recreational and educational facilities will be opened for Mosul children in the context of overcoming the challenges the province is facing after its liberation," Mosul mayor Zuhair al-Araji told Diyaruna.

During Eid al-Adha, he said, the province re-opened the Dijla City amusement park, one of the largest in the city.

This, along with the other activities, will help to restore a sense of normalcy among the city's children and offer them a chance to play and have fun.

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