Help for Iraqi Orphans Falls on Charities

The Iraq war has cost a great number of children one or both parents. The United Nations estimates there are 40,000 children living in orphanages with local charities picking up the tab for their care.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

We're flowing reports of four deadly bombings in Baghdad today. At least 100 people have been killed and many more wounded. One of the consequences of the relentless killings in Iraq is the growing number of children left orphaned. Last year, the United Nations estimated there are about 40,000 children living in orphanages across the country. Iraq's government has been slow to provide services and care for these children, and that's left local charities to pick up much of the burden.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay has this story from Baghdad.

BADRIA DAUFER: (Foreign language spoken)

JAMIE TARABAY: At the Castle al-Yassin(ph) Orphanage and School in Baghdad, 6- year-old Badria Daufer stands in front of a group of local dignitaries. Dressed in a white headscarf and a dark blue tunic, Badria recites a poem about mothers. Oh mother, she says, you are a song that I chant, my soul and life. God has told me to be good to you.

The dignitaries have brought gifts. Boys and girls stand near cardboard boxes filled with shoes, clothes, and copies of the Koran. Their aren't enough to go around. Asma Karim(ph), the headmistress, says close to a thousand orphans are housed here.

ASMA KARIM: (Through translator) The idea to establish this school came about from all the children who became orphans because of the terrorist explosions. There are also orphans who lost their fathers under the former regime.

TARABAY: There are also some children who are here because what remains of their families can no longer afford to care for them, a common problem in a country with rampant unemployment and a shattered economy.

Nine-year-old Manar Fisim's(ph) mother died from sickness, and her family lives on handouts from her grandparents.

MANAR FISIM: (Foreign language spoken)

TARABAY: I still remember my dead mother, she says. They brought her dead body to the house. I remember her every day; I cry because she's gone.

Manar's family hasn't escaped the violence that brought many of her classmates here. She tells how her uncle was kidnapped on his way to work in Taji, north of Baghdad, not long ago.

FISIM: (Foreign language spoken)

TARABAY: They demanded a ransom to release my uncle, she says. We paid the ransom, but they killed him and threw his body in the river.

The children here are well versed in the terms of the violence that has marked the past four years here - explosions, terrorists, ransoms, killing.

Unidentified Child #1: (Foreign language spoken)

TARABAY: One orphan says he's afraid terrorists will find out about the school and blow it up.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD NOISE)

TARABAY: In a freshly painted classroom, boys sit waiting for their teacher to arrive. They are asked to raise their hands if they had lost their father to the violence here. All but a few hands go up. One at a time, they say they want the killing to stop.

Unidentified Child #2: (Foreign language spoken)

TARABAY: One boy says, terrorists blow us up, burn our houses. They do all kinds of bad things to us. Another says, they attack us on our way to holy shrines. They start shooting at us from orchards.

Most of these children come from Sadr City and its surrounding Shiite neighborhoods. It's a bastion of support for the anti-American cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr. Sadr's office is a major financial contributor to this orphanage, along with the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Red Crescent.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Foreign language spoken)

TARABAY: Suddenly the boys sit with attention as their teacher enters the classroom. Itdihash Abdul Hussein(ph) is wearing a full-length black abaya and most of her face is hidden, apart from her eyes circled in eyeliner. She says she volunteered to come teach here, saying what she's doing is a divine mission.

ITDIHASH ABDUL HUSSEIN: (Through translator) I lost my mother when I was a child so I feel exactly how these children feel.

TARABAY: She turns to the class and tells them to begin by saying a prayer.

ABDUL HUSSEIN: (Foreign language spoken)

TARABAY: She tells them the teachers are here to serve the students. We pray to God, she says, that these hard times will end soon and peace and security prevail.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.

MONTAGNE: And NPR's Isra Abdulhadi(ph) contributed to that report.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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