Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Letting Children Be Children

Children playing the Iraqi version of chess
I know I said I probably wouldn't post another blog until I returned to Iraq from a visit to the UK and the US but I want to write about a couple of experiences I had over the last few days. I'm sitting in the house waiting for our taxi to arrive, scheduled for 1:00 am, to take us to the Suly airport for our 4:00 am flight.  For some reason, most every flight out of, and many into Sulaymaniyah, are scheduled in the wee hours of the morning.  We fly to Amman, then Jim and I separate, he going to Amsterdam then New York City, me to London and then on to the US. 
Animals in the stockyard
One of Heartland Alliance's partners runs a drop-in center in the bazaar and a mobile drop-in center for working children, both of which I had the privilege of visiting this morning.  Although Iraqi law prohibits children under 15 or 16 from working, there is an exemption for work with relatives -- an invitation to exploitation.  This morning, the mobile drop-in center (a small bus) was at the stockyard, a place where animals are sold and often slaughtered.  Children start working there early in the morning and often arrive at the drop-in center covered in blood and cuts from slaughtering animals(I was reminded of The Jungle, Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel about the Chicago meatpacking industry which spurred government regulation). They are given juice, games to play and an opportunity to relax and just act like children for a while.  About 15 to 30 kids of various ages come each day. This morning, I met some terrific boys (they are all boys), age 12 or under, who were warm and friendly, as I have found almost every Iraqi child to be.
With my new friends
I then went to the drop-in center in the market. Because it's stationary and reaches more children, it offers more services, including a doctor who is there once a week, music, art, educational activities, as well as games.  The center greets about 80 boys a day, aged from 10 or 11 to 16.  The art I saw hanging on the walls by the kids was amazing, art that showed the places they worked (for example, garages, produce stands, selling cigarettes, etc.) as well as activities at the center.  Help us support these centers (unfortunately the drop-in centers in Baghdad and Basra were forced to close because of failure to find additional funding) by donating on-line at www.heartlandalliance.org and designating your gift for Iraq (I know, I'm an unbroken record but the work is so important). 
Drawings by drop-in center boys  
The boys that I met today, when not in school, should be having fun -- doing things boys love to do, like playing football.  When I lived in London I became a huge Chelsea football fan and my favorite player is Frank Lampard.  Ironically, on the way home from work today, I ran into a young man decked out in the full Chelsea kit with Frank Lampard's name and number (8) on the shirt and pants.
Young Iraqi Chelsea fan
This weekend we had the opportunity to go to a Kurdish party in the hills about an hour or so outside of Sulaymaniyah.  We were invited to join new ex-pat friends from Canada, one of whom is a volunteer at Heartland with a partner who works for a Middle Eastern oil rig company doing business in Kurdistan with our host.  We experienced the famous Kurdish hospitality in all its glory -- lots of food, drink and a host whose only focus was to make sure we had enough of everything. Just as we thought we couldn't eat more and were about to leave, the "main" course was brought out! 
Kurdish hospitality
One of the nice benefits of being guests at this lovely affair was that we drove outside the city and into the hills where it was not only beautiful but about 20 or 30 degrees cooler than the plain on which Suly lies.  When we return to Iraq, it will be what is purportedly the hottest month of the year -- August -- which reaches 130 to 140 degrees!  In the meantime we'll enjoy the "cool" temperatures in the west.
The countryside outside of Suly

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