Going to school

 By Simonetta Sandri

The commitment to develop sustainability projects, in parallel with operational activities, has deep roots in Eni’s history. Back then, like today, we would cooperate with the communities and institutions on the territory offering our tangible help for the local development. We would go and we still go to stay, to understand each other, to talk, to live an adventure together, made of mutual exchange, respect and understanding. School is the prime engine. And its accelerator is the facilities, the places where you can study, write, draw, play, have a snack…

My father used to say that the bad thing about being poor is that you can’t study, and without studying you can’t go anywhere (Enrico Mattei)

In Iraq, Eni Iraq BV, as Lead Contract in Joint Venture, has built, as part of its broad sustainability program, a primary (elementary) school of 8 classes, attended by 300 little girls, inaugurated this past month of March. We met with the principal of this girls’ school, Janat Al Barjisia, and the Education Committee Chairman of Basra’s provincial Council. Let’s go in together, then. Tiptoeing.

From Zubair’s Eni Iraq BV Life Support Camp (EIBV LSC) it takes only 3 km to reach the new school, a brand-new building where white and yellow take over, almost as to symbolize the light and the sun that are blinding in that setting but that are always there to show a path.

A signpost with Eni’s tipical “dual flag” approach takes us with discretion into the new locations, not far away an Iraqi flag swings in a light wind breeze, welcoming us. We came here passing through a desert with a penetrating color, a strong an energetic beige-ochre that melts into the sky.  Both almost lost at the end of the horizon, in a limitless embrace. A few sprouts of green here and there remind us that Nature finds its way, one way or the other. A moon-like landscape, kind of like Hassi Messaoud’s in Algeria. A boomerang shaped branch attracts my attention.

We are going through a street where most of the girls who go to school drive through. A white and light blue bus waits for them on their front doors, ready to welcome their joyful little voices telling stories about the games they played at home the day before. On the windscreen, the velvet seated vehicle hosts embroidered little curtains resembling a wave and a heart shaped sticker. Female touch. The transportation vehicles are supplied by the South Oil Company (SOC) and the Iraqi Drilling Company. SOC, the Iraqi state company, is in partnership with Eni Iraq BV in the “not incorporated joint venture” Zubair Field Operation Division (ZFOD) for the development of the Zubair field, in Basra’s proconsulate, in the south of the country, at the border with Kuwait.

The Janat Al Barjisia School has been inaugurated on March 1st 2016 at the presence of the representatives of the Local Authorities of Barsa’s province and those of ZFOD and Eni Iraq BV. The principal and the teachers of the institute followed the construction phase up close, proud to see the development of such a building which today, every day, welcomes 300 little girls, bringing the number of the total beneficiaries to over 200 families.

To have a proper space for education is a need for each young life, other than a right. Even in the middle of the desert, at the edge of a jungle, next to overcrowded bidonville or along dusty and poorly lighten roads. In most, if not in all, the places in the world the place where one can study is a safe place where you can spend your day while outside there are risks and dangers, while your parents are working. A place where you can take shelter and, studying with your friends, which will be friends forever, learn to grow up.

Science dictionary by Rania and Hiba
In the past classes used to be held in hot, muggy and crowded caravans in the summer, today, finally, the students can be comfortably seated in a clean and cozy environment...

Amine Mansour al Tamimi, member of Basra’s provincial Council and president of the Education Committee, followed the entire project and is proud of an initiative which takes care of educating little girls, in this case, from 6 to 11 years old. A compulsory schooling in the Iraqi educational system (grades 1-6), which lasts 6 years. The same feeling comes from the school’s principal, Layaly Abed Al Majeed. Also in this case, the works have been followed up close, day by day, till the inauguration, which has seen the little girls, flowers in their hands, parade in pink dresses with diamond tiaras worthy of a princess: “it is an amazing feeling, when the construction takes a shape under your eyes”, tells us Layaly. 350 m3 of cement, 15000 m3 of bricks and 35 tons of steel, a supervising engineer, 20 workers and 5 technicians have made it all.

Layaly tells us that the greatest satisfaction comes from the fact that classes used to be held in hot, muggy and crowded caravans in the summer, and that today, finally, the students can be comfortably seated in a clean and cozy environment. In the entrance, on the walls is written that a book is a man’s best friend. There are 12 teachers and there is a small canteen. Also parents have an important active role in the school management: two times a year, in November and in February, they meet with the teachers to discuss all the matters of importance to the little girls and the school. There are sections and regular sports lessons, Layaly is one of the teachers, sport educates and helps to understand not only the value of teamwork but also the importance of learning to lose. The new basketball field waits, impatiently, for the players.

Music has its time and space: there are no instruments, but the lessons are carried out regularly, the harmonious, soothing notes fill your soul and also make you dream a little. There are no harps or violins, but you can feel them in the air. As if they were there. Rocking horses, garlands, balls, bowling pins, tricycles with their baskets fill a classroom completely dedicated to games. On the floor lies a checkered carpet. What strikes you are the colors on the walls of the classrooms, covered with drawings which resemble family scenes and houses, palm trees and fuchsia colored flowers.

The pencil cases on the desks are pink, pale blue eyeglasses wink on smiling faces, pearled hairbands and white bows decorate their hair, a few veiled heads, unformed uniforms which keep the same disciplined and elegant blue and white line. Clover pattern curtains. On the side of the wooden desks, the schoolbags, those pink too, some ponytails get tangled into them, spelling-books and water bottles stick out. A drawing attracts my attention: a little girl from the back, amber-colored hair, looking at the horizon. She’s sitting, at least it seems so, by the sea, maybe a lake, a tree next to her, swallows in the sky.

I ask myself if the author has ever seen the sea, or maybe just imagined it while reading bedtime stories. I just know that drawing hangs in my blackboard today, in my office in Rome. Maybe one day I’ll meet the author. An embroidery on the wall reproduces a minaret with doves touching each other. Flowers are pictured here too, with some additional lozenge.  A kind of blonde fairy with a sparkly emerald green dress and a golden hat, touches with her magic wand, also in gold and in the shape of a flower, the mind of who walks by her. Strange, but she has no hands. Who knows why. The young author signs: Roukaya Mahdawib.

There are also many sentences, which seem written by ancient nibs worthy of an antique dealer, in little hearts or little drops. The writing seems embroidery, the Arabic calligraphy is a proper work of art. It is, in fact, the science dictionary prepared by the 5 year olds Rania Miqdad Falih and Hiba Maazin, under the supervision of Ms. Muntaha. Not to mention the ornamental flowery boxes, the hand works, the dried fruits and the almond and honey flavored sweets waiting for us on a long table at the entrance. Everywhere is fantasy and joy of going to school. In the desert. And a warm inscription to our Roberta.

5 other schools have already been renewed in Al Zubair and the Al Marbed Quar Sub Districts, and educational material, like computers, printers and blackboards, distributed in other 15 (Al Marbed area of Al Burjisia, in the Zubair camp). Everything swarms, boils, everything moves. This is just a first step of Eni’s educational project. Because every thousand mile journey always begins with a first step. And the end of a journey is just the beginning of another one.

SEE MORE: “Life is changing…” by Anima Team


about the author
Simonetta Sandri