Following the fall of the Saddam regime in 2003, the country has seen continuous conflicts that have left many children orphaned and many women widowed. Some estimates place the number of orphans in Iraq to be over one and half million, with 10,000 in Najaf alone.
The recent conflict with ISIS has also left many both orphaned and homeless. Many children fled their cities after their parents were killed, and thus they were forced to live in IDP tents, fatherless and sometimes motherless.
“Two years ago, when their father died, we stayed in this tent,” said a mother of four currently living in a tent in Najaf. “God has helped us and some good people have offered some help with the daily expenses and food. That has been going on for two years.”
The poor conditions for orphans and poverty-stricken families in Iraq led many individuals and organisations to launch initiatives to help orphans and IDPs due to a lack of government support. Amongst these organisations is one which was founded by Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani the highest Shi’a authority in Iraq.
The Ayatollah established the al-Ayn Social Care Foundation soon after the US occupation in 2003. Until 2011, however, the organisation was focused on registering orphans throughout the country.
After the ISIS invasion, the organisation’s work became much more prominent and expanded. “The Foundation provides services to approximately 75,000 orphans throughout Iraq,” says Sheikh Amjad Riyadh, the CEO of the Foundation. “In addition to a monthly salary, the Foundation provides full health services, including surgery and medical reviews, inside and outside Iraq”.
Al-Ayn Foundation is not only limited to providing financial and health care, as it also counts psychological rehabilitation as one of the main objectives.
“The specialists are Iraqis who live inside and outside Iraq,” says Abbas Abdulameer an administrator at al-Ayn. “Planned programs have been developed to increase the orphan’s self-confidence, make a creative environment for him, and completely build his character”.
Al-Ayn also has prospects to build a centre, Hikayati, where the orphans can visit and address the psychological pressures that they face on a daily basis.
Initiatives like this are welcome in Iraq, and are seen as a breath of fresh air to the many orphans currently living in Iraq with no governmental care whatsoever.