Theater for Traumatized Children Fills a Need in
By Chris Herlinger*
Church World Service
2004, BAGHDAD, IRAQ – No one can accuse theater director Fadhil Abbas
(pictured, right) of an undersupply of enthusiasm.
Rushing off to support his small theater troupe in its next performance,
Abbas is eager to see the reaction of the audience – in this case, dozens of
students attending the Hibako Allah Center, a Baghdad school for youngsters
with Down’s Syndrome (pictured, below).
If past performances are any indication, the reaction to today’s play – “The
Neighborhood's Tree," a fable about children saving a tree from being cut
down – will prove a hit.
The children, many of them between the ages of 8 and 13, laugh and applaud
this tale, redolent of so much that has happened in Iraq during their young
lives. One of the play’s themes explores the difference in Arabic between
the word for love, pronounced “hub,” and the word for war, pronounced “hurb.”
another play performed elsewhere by the troupe, is a morality tale that
explores the relationship between two feuding cats who eventually opt to
resolve their differences peacefully rather than by fighting.
To the students, though, plots are probably less important than the mere
presence of actors like Sadoun Al-Jebory, whose enthusiasm and exuberance
“You can touch and feel their happiness,” Abbas said of the students.
Indeed. Sahira Abdul Latif, the school’s founder, said that the actors’
presence caused a spark in some students she had not seen before.
Happiness, of course, has been hard-won for Iraqi children, which is why
performances like these are sign of some hope, she said.
are also a sign of international solidarity – these and other performances
by Abbas’ troupe are being funded with a $20,800 grant from the All Our
Children (AOC) campaign**, an inter-agency effort of US churches and
ecumenical agencies. Church World Service is the coordinating agency for the
AOC funding is enabling the troupe to mount some 30 performances in and
around Baghdad, providing a sense of emotional health for children who have
already lost a part of their childhoods amid war, looting and insecurity –
and particularly those who, like the students at the Hibako Allah Center,
already face severe disadvantages.
To Abbas, the need to create theater for traumatized children filled a
needed void in a post-war Iraq still experiencing trauma and insecurity. “No
one was thinking about the children,” he recalled and that prompted him to
organize fellow actors into the troupe.
Nothing, he believes, could be more important or beneficial at the moment in
Iraq than making children happy.
Why? “Because they are our future.”
* Mr. Herlinger visited Iraq in mid-January 2004.
** The All Our Children campaign was founded in December 2002 to respond
to the critical health needs of Iraqi children. AOC partners are
Church World Service, the National Council of Churches U.S.A., Jubilee
Partners, Stop Hunger Now, Sojourners, the Mennonite Central Committee,
Lutheran World Relief and Oxfam America.
Pictured, top to bottom: Director Fadhil
Abbas of a theater troupe receiving "AOC" assistance; Children at the Hibako
Allah Center In Baghdad, site of a recent AOC-funded theater performance;
Actor Sadoun Al-Jebory with children at the Hibako Allah Center In Baghdad,
site of a recent AOC-funded theater performance. All photos by Chris
Continued Support from All Our Children a Boost
in the Face of Ongoing Humanitarian Need in Iraq
Facts About the All Our Children Campaign