From Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra). Re-published with permission by Iraq Business News.
In this conversation with Liz McRae, Hussein Al-alak hears about the efforts which the Iraqi Children Foundation have been undertaking, during the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. Liz McRae is the Executive Director of the Iraqi Children Foundation.
Can you tell us about the Iraqi Children Foundation and why it was founded?
The Iraqi Children Foundation (ICF) intervenes in the lives of orphans and street children who are vulnerable to abuse, neglect, and exploitation by criminals, traffickers and extremists. The organization was set up ten years ago by Americans who saw the need to help rebuild Iraq after so many years of conflict. More than 800,000 children were orphaned as a result of the Iraq War, and the ISIS occupation displaced another 1.3 million.
Our vision is that all children in Iraq have a voice, and are empowered to reach their full potential. All our programs have this goal in mind. We help vulnerable children through programs like "The Hope Buses"; we convert used city buses into colorful, child friendly classrooms. Each bus has two teachers and a social worker, and serves around 50 children with tutoring, nutrition, health care, social services, practical life lessons, community, and fun.
Another program is called "The Street Lawyers"; a team of lawyers who provide legal protection for children who are targeted by criminals and traffickers, abused by employers, or are facing other risks. They also assist children to get their papers so that they can go to school.
The ICF supports children who are vulnerable. Can you describe some of these vulnerabilities?
There are many vulnerable children in Iraq. In particular, we work with children who are orphaned (meaning, they have lost one or both parents), and children who are working to support their families.
Many children in Iraq are also vulnerable due to displacement caused by conflict. These children are vulnerable to abuse and can be targeted by criminals and extremists. More recently, COVID-19 adds an extra challenge for children and families, as it has done for people all over the world.
The ICF also supports children who are at risk of exploitation. As Iraq experiences many challenges, how does exploitation manifest itself?
For families experiencing poverty, displacement, or a lack of access to job opportunities, the possibility of exploitation is increased. Many children in Iraq have to work to support their families, especially when one or both parents have died. These children can be exploited by employers, and are easy targets for criminals and extremist organizations.
The risk of exploitation is also heightened by the fact that children working are often not attending school on a regular basis. Without access to education, it becomes harder to stay away from potentially exploitative situations.
Many countries have been under lockdown due to the Covid Pandemic, what have the ICF been doing during this time?
Many children in Iraq face incredible hardship every single day, often without access to proper nutrition, education, healthcare, and safety. COVID-19 adds new challenges for these children, and also exacerbates the existing issues.For children living in poor communities, social distancing is difficult (if not impossible) due to large numbers of people living in close confines, and there may be little or no access to hygiene supplies or PPE, food, work, school, and community members. The bottom line is: COVID-19 makes vulnerable children more vulnerable.
During this critical time, we are doing our best to help keep children as safe and healthy as possible. Teams have been distributing food and hygiene supplies to vulnerable children and families in multiple cities, and our Hope Bus staff have paid home visits to children from the Hope Buses to show them how to use PPE and practice good hygiene so that they can stay safe during COVID-19.
We continue to work with the teams on the ground in Iraq, who are doing their best to work safely and always with the best interests of the children in mind.
How can people within the international community, support the Iraqi Children Foundation and their work in Iraq?
You can do a lot from home; you are not powerless to help the vulnerable children in Iraq. Here are some things you can do to help:
Follow and spread the word - follow us on social media to learn more about the challenges Iraqi Children are facing, to hear ICF news and progress, and share to spread the word so we can make a larger impact (Facebook/LinkedIn: Iraqi Children Foundation, Instagram/Twitter: @IraqiChildren)
Give what you can - every dollar matters, especially now. Donate any amount at our Global Giving page to help. Also, new monthly donors get a 100% match on their first month of giving.
Fundraise - help us fundraise; start your own mini-campaign using Global Giving or Facebook - it only takes 5 minutes! Email [email protected] to find out more, and we can help you set it up.