Youth Teams and Reconstruction

Part of the TRAFO series “Reconstructing Neighborhoods of War”

By Kefah Ahmed M. Najjar

Why youth teams?

The battles for the liberation of Mosul ended on 10 July 2017, when freedom returned to the inhabitants. But 40,000 of them were killed according to estimates published by the British newspaper The Independent. Local inhabitants found themselves in a war torn city where the five main bridges linking the two sides of the city on the Tigris River have been demolished, and the city’s infrastructure almost completely destroyed. Public hospitals no longer exist, leaving only the remnants and rubble of Mosul Medical College.

Ahmed Ibrahim, who works in the directorate of the Municipality of Mosul, said “the number of housing units in old Mosul was estimated at 70,000 housing units, and the war led to the destruction of more than 30,000 housing units.” One might think that reconstructing the Old City of Mosul is not difficult, given its small area of only four square kilometers, but those aware of the figures issued by local and international organizations will be surprised by the amount of debris accumulated in the city that  is still waiting to be lifted. Mohammed Aldwola, who works for the United Nations Development Programme team in Mosul, said in a statement to Yeqein News Agency, “The size of the rubble in Mosul is estimated at 27 million tons … Only five million tons have been removed so far.” Most of the damage is in the Old City, while more than 130 kilometers of roads have been destroyed and some neighborhoods are completely destroyed, such as al-Midan, Qulayat and al-Shahwan, historic neighborhoods on the Tigris River, which today no longer exist.

After the liberation of the city from the so-called Islamic State, people found their city had been turned into a complete ruin. Their homes were destroyed, and their streets reduced to rubble. Residents were hoping for the arrival of Iraqi national companies to rebuild the city or at least clean their streets from remnants of war. But that hope began to fade away. It is in this context that the role of young people who did not like seeing their city die and turning into a ghost town emerged. The youth began to create small teams from among their neighbors in their own street and met with each other and decided to start cleaning their street. After that, the youth of the neighborhood began to assemble themselves and decided to form teams including all the youth of the neighborhood, assigning names to their teams. In the beginning, all the young teams worked to clean the streets, but then the young teams became more specialized. For instance, a team called Khalwoha Agmel, Iraqi Arabic for “Make it more beautiful,”  has specialized in cleaning and finishing schools, while the Khutna ll Khair, “our brotherhood to do good,” team has been dedicated to cleaning and renovating hospitals.

Volunteers operate one of the danaber to clear debris in Mosul.

Cleaning first (the Danaber campaign)

In February 2017, a group of volunteers carrying paintbrushes set out to erase the traces of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) concentrated in the main streets of eastern Mosul. Daoud al-Hafiz is the 30-year-old founder and organizer of the popular campaign to remove the effects of ISIS from Mosul and clean and rehabilitate roads and public institutions. Dozens of young people participated along with al-Hafiz in the campaign that was launched on 26 January in the neighborhoods of the left coast of Mosul. Al-Hafez explained that the purpose of the campaign is to “restore the beautiful image of the city,” indicating that “We have dubbed our campaign, ‘Make It More Beautiful,’ i.e. more beautiful than it was before ISIL’s occupation.”

The campaign began with 60 volunteers and now includes more than 160 participants, including civilian activists, engineers, artisans, media professionals and various other segments of the population. Activists use danaber, an Iraqi term for small dump trucks. According to Ayoub Thenon, one of the organizers of the campaign, “Today, 22 days after the start of the initiative, we have collected about 8,000 danaber, small machines used to remove rubble from narrow alleys. There are many teams and more than 100 volunteers participating in the campaign. We are working to bring back the residents of the neighborhood.” The young teams gathered the old danaber to repair the streets to the best of their technical and financial abilities. They described the machines’ ability to navigate the narrow streets and how much could be achieved by using these old machines to remove the rubble from the streets. A police officer described the teams saying, “What I most admire in youth volunteer campaigns is the determination to work,” speaking about the youth of the Danaber campaign, which worked in the Old City for months. He also described the work of these people as “a bee hive in every sense of the word. They used locally known vehicles (danaber) and cleaned all the alleys of this area in old Mosul, which helped the residents of this area and encouraged them to return to their area and start rebuilding their homes.”

Youth Volunteers

Restoration of schools

The youth teams in Mosul were very enthusiastic about working to bring life back to the city. Getting students back to their schools was one of the best things to help people return to normal life. The return of students to schools creates new hope and gets teachers and other school employees back to their jobs. It also pushes other government sectors to work, while revitalizing stagnant markets, because students will need to buy clothes and school supplies.

Therefore, many youth groups started to renovate primary and secondary schools. As al-Zarari explains in a statement to Yaqein News Agency:  “Their work includes the cleaning of the outer yards, the removal of weeds, the washing of rows, the work on the repair of the school chairs/tables, the repair of electrical installations, of the water supply and the maintenance of the bathrooms.” “All these activities are self-organized and funding is almost non-existent, except for the donations we get from our families, friends and residents of the neighborhood,” he adds.

The young volunteer beams that in two weeks four schools are ready to reopen and receive students during the current academic year, stressing that volunteers’ work continues to develop, which enhances their capacities in the fields of carpentry, welding, plumbing and electrical installations. To date, there are no official statistics on the number of destroyed or damaged schools in the city of Mosul, but speculation suggests that the figure exceeds 400 schools, most of which are located on the right bank, which suffered the most damage from violent military operations and heavy shelling.


References and further reading

al-Taie, Khalid, (2017). “Youth of east Mosul clear away evidence of ISIL.” Diyaruna, March 3. [http://diyaruna.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_di/features/2017/03/03/feature-03]

Yaqein News Agency, (2017). “Volunteer youth teams a successful experience created by need and a lack of government.” November 13, 2017. [https://yaqein.net/reports/69465]


Kefah Ahmed M. Najjar was born in Baghdad in 1977. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Baghdad University’s Faculty of Education and Department of History (2000), a master’s degree in modern and contemporary history from the Faculty of Education (2002), and a PhD in modern and contemporary history from the Faculty of Arts, University of Baghdad (2011). Since 2014, he has been an Assistant Professor at the College of Arts, University of Baghdad.


Further articles in the series “Reconstructing Neighborhoods of War” on TRAFO:

Birgit Schäbler, Introduction: The Importance of Being Earnest About Neighborhoods, 28 August 2019.

Kevin Mazur, Not Just Neo-Liberalism: Spontaneous Settlement and Violent Conflict in Homs, Syria, 4 September 2019.

Mazen Haidar, Neighbors at War in 1975-77 Beirut, 11 September 2019.

Piotr Korduba, The Reconstruction of Warsaw: Between Abhorrence and Acceptance, 18 September 2019.

Paul Sigel, “More Beautiful than Ever Before!” Neighborhood-Rebuilding in Divided Germany as Political Propaganda during the Cold War, 25 September 2019.

Allam Al-Kazei, Beyond the Atomic Bombing: The Revival of Hiroshima’s Neighborhoods, 2 October 2019.

Mohammad Hassan Khani, War Emigration and its Impact on Post-War Reconstruction of Neighborhoods: A Case Study of Khorramshahr after the Iran-Iraq War, 17 October 2019.

Namariq Al-Rawi, Baghdad Neighborhoods: Processes of Resilience against the Internally-reflected Conflict of 2006–2008, 24 October 2019.


Citation: Kefah Ahmed M. Najjar, Youth Teams and Reconstruction, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 07.11.2019, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/19921.


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