When I first entered the Iraqi Safe House for Creativity, an orphanage that shelters 33 orphans and displaced youth, I was compelled to document the stories of those taking refuge there. Two days later, I left with 33 stories that demonstrate the gravity of the situation in Iraq and its direct and indirect impact on thousands of children. I bore witness to their lives and the listened to the stories of the many crises they have been through.
Iraq has been in varying states of chaos for the past two decades. It started with international sanctions in the 1990s that hit the most vulnerable members of society the hardest. Much of Iraq’s vital infrastructure was destroyed during the 2003 invasion, alongside the infrastructure of government. Violence is commonplace. Ethnic and religious tensions are soaring. There is the constant threat of terrorism from al-Qaida and the Daesh (ISIS). People live in fear and there is very little trust in the government’s ability to successfully cope with all of these issues. Suffice to say it is a very dangerous place to be a child.
Al-Qaida, who were not a problem in Iraq before 2003, recruit at-risk children because they are easy targets. There are hundreds of thousands of children in Iraq who do not have access to education and many more who are living in dire poverty. The Iraqi Safe House for Creativity, directed by Hisham Al-Thahabi, aims to provide shelter to some of these children. This is a story about some of Iraq’s orphan survivors: about those who have nowhere else to go because they are the children of war.