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Theater for Traumatized Children Fills a Need in Post-War Iraq

By Chris Herlinger*
Church World Service

January 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.

It is.

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.”

Love,” 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 are contagious.

“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.

They 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 effort.

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 Herlinger.

Related stories:
Continued Support from All Our Children a Boost in the Face of Ongoing Humanitarian Need in Iraq
Facts About the All Our Children Campaign

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