Dolma in the dorm

Mariam is your average 22-year-old college student. She lives in a dorm, dreams of travelling the world, and loves binge-watching TV shows.

There’s one major difference, however. Mariam studies at Mosul University, an institution that suffered extensive damage by ISIL while it occupied the city for nearly three years. During this time, classes stopped entirely, and students stayed home because they feared for their lives.

Since East Mosul’s liberation in January 2017, UNDP has rehabilitated several of the University’s buildings, including the Al Hadba women’s dormitory which was once used by ISIL to manufacture elaborate bombs.

Today, it’s a space for 1,000 women from all over Iraq?�?places like Kirkuk, Erbil, Diyala, Babylon and Baghdad?�?to live, study and relax.

And Mariam is one of them.

The best thing about living in the dorm is that I can get to know so many different people, and of course experience things like an independent lifestyle, and learning to count on myself while I’m studying is important too, says Mariam.

Mariam is an oil and mining engineering student?�?not a traditional field of study for women in Iraq. When she first started, she studied nuclear engineering.

There are always people saying this field is not for women. They keep telling me that I can’t actually work in the field, that all I’d do is just sit at my desk in some office. That’s not true, because I believe that women can do everything men can do?�?and more.

We meet Mariam during Ramadan, and she is busy in the dorm with her friends making dolma for evening Iftar celebrations. It’s a delicious, traditional Iraqi dish of stuffed vine leaves and vegetables, and the women are using a brand-new kitchen to prepare it. The smell wafts through the halls.

It’s a good meal to make with friends because it’s a fun and you can chat while each person is looking after one step, says Mariam.

Education is a critical element of UNDP’s stabilization program, with almost 900 projects completed or underway in schools and universities across Iraq. From rehabilitating classrooms, to providing lab equipment and desks, to restoring sporting facilities?�?giving students the best possible chance to succeed at learning is at the program’s core.

As the sun sets at Al Hadba dormitory, the outdoor courtyard becomes a hive of activity. Some women are walking around chatting with friends; others are seated studiously on tables preparing for exams. Almost all of them wear a uniform of cozy, colorful pajamas. It’s the night before a major exam for Mariam, but she is relaxed. Despite the challenges ahead of her as a female engineer, she oozes optimism. She is ready to quell stereotypes and is keeping her dreams big.

I want to work abroad. My dream job involves moving from one country to the next, she says. I’d also love to learn more languages, (she’s already self-taught Korean and is fluent in English).

Oh, and I want to climb Mount Everest, she adds.

Source: UNDP Iraq