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In Iraq, in the city of Mosul, about a million people have been living under the control of ISIS for more than two years. Hundreds of thousands of them are children. As security forces press an offensive on the ISIS-held city, NPR's Alice Fordham met some of the kids who have now escaped.
ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: This camp for displaced people about 10 miles east of Mosul is growing by the day as people flee fighting in the city. Now aid workers have set up classrooms in tents and a play space where little girls are jumping rope in the chilly sunshine while hundreds more are in class.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Eight, nine, ten.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).
FORDHAM: They're learning English, Arabic, arithmetic, most for the first time in years. I sit with a mom and her son, who's about 10 years old. They don't give names because they're still afraid of ISIS. I asked the little boy if he used to like school.
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (Through interpreter) Yes, I used to like it, but I stopped going since they came.
FORDHAM: They is ISIS, who arrived in summer 2014 and changed the curriculum.
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (Through interpreter) They showed us how to make a grenade and hold a load of machine gun.
FORDHAM: He went home and told his parents.
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (Through interpreter) I told them one day about the lessons I was getting in school, and my mom told me stop going.
FORDHAM: But his mom says removing him from class didn't protect him from exposure to ISIS.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Through interpreter) They would tell the children, come, watch our heroic acts. They would slaughter people in public. Children were terrified. They should be playing, and instead it was blood - blood everywhere.
FORDHAM: Many of the people now coming out of Mosul speak of ISIS deliberately indoctrinating children - at school, at summer camps, even at public executions. Iraqi teachers working with the displaced children say their ordeal is reflected in their behavior. Zainab Abdelaziz steps out of a math class to talk.
ZAINAB ABDELAZIZ: (Foreign language spoken).
FORDHAM: They're rough, she says. They're violent, especially the older ones. She's experienced and Iraqi children saw violence even before ISIS, but she says these children are worse.
ABDELAZIZ: (Foreign language spoken).
FORDHAM: But, she says, they can change. When they go to school, learn about tolerance, interact with other kids, you can see them change. Aid agencies internationally say setting up basic classrooms should be part of emergency help for children caught up in conflict. These tents are run by the Norwegian Refugee Council with help from the United Nations. Here's the U.N.'s Regional Child Protection Specialist, Isabella Castrogiovanni, on these emergency classes.
ISABELLA CASTROGIOVANNI: I mean, knowing that every day, they can go there, that it's a safe space where they can meet other children. They can, you know, go back to some learning practices. It's of critical importance.
FORDHAM: She's seen the impact around the world.
CASTROGIOVANNI: I remember vividly in Afghanistan, for instance, seeing when the first five girls, after the fall of the Taliban regime, were allowed to go back to school. I remember those lines - huge lines of girls. And this has a huge impact on the psychological well-being of children.
FORDHAM: I asked that little boy in the camp how it feels to be back at school.
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (Foreign language spoken).
FORDHAM: The happiest, he says. Then he goes to play football with his brother. Alice Fordham, NPR News, Northern Iraq.
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