Healing Children’s Wounds of WarBy Deborah Wolfe
“It was Friday,” she recalls. “There was fighting and bombs everywhere. Terrified, I ran from my home. That’s when a bomb fell beside me.”
In a single moment of violence, Raja’s childhood was transformed forever. She became a casualty of war.
The ‘bomb’ was an unidentified explosive. The Iraqi government troops battled to free Mosul from the control of ISIL fighters. The device could have come from anywhere.
“I remember lying on the ground,” she says. She doesn’t mention the pain. Given the extent of her injuries, Raja was likely in shock. “My hand was bleeding. Blood was oozing from my stomach.”
Neighbours rushed her to the hospital, where doctors battled to stop the bleeding and save her legs and feet.
But no doctor is qualified to save a child’s spirit. And that spirit fought for survival.
After two months, Raja was carried out of the hospital, to face life again. She had lost her hand and both her feet and legs were badly injured. She wouldn’t have a wheelchair till many months later, when World Vision would provide one. Till then, she needed to be carried everywhere, even to use the bathroom.
And the damage went far beyond the physical. Some children emerged from the battle for Mosul and the preceding years of ISIL occupation too terrified even to speak.
And now, two years after the city’s liberation, hundreds of child survivors are still unable to leave their homes. What happened ‘out there’ was just too horrible. Their instinct for survival screams that indoors is safer.
It is inside their broken houses that World Vision finds children like Raja. With an emphasis on gentleness, we invite these young survivors to visit a place that’s not hostile to children, a new place of safety designed for children. A Child Friendly Space.
“I didn’t want to leave home, so I stayed indoors,” Raja remembers. “Sometimes I would sit in the doorway and feel the warmth of the sun on my face.”
There were just so many reasons not to leave home. Her body looked different from before. It functioned differently. The city was an obstacle course of destruction. And the Child Friendly Space was an unknown prospect.
Eventually, Raja found the courage to go. She took the risk.
It was inside the Child Friendly Space that Raja began reclaiming her life. Pictures of nature’s beauty lined the walls, created by children determined to see beyond a city of rubble.
This small sanctuary is precious for children. Outside, much of the city remains unsafe for play. Urban war zones can be filled with buildings teetering on the verge of collapse and explosives not yet detonated.
But indoors, everything was stable, predictable. Staff spoke softly and kindly. They didn’t push Raja to talk or participate before she was ready. She could just watch and listen as other children painted, played and sang songs.
And there was much more. Raja met workers who care deeply for kids, as well as people who specialize in the psychological needs of children who have survived hell on earth.
In the months to follow – with professional care, financial assistance from a local partner organization, and unwavering support from family – Raja’s spirit began to mend. Such healing doesn’t come easily. But it does come.
Today, it’s as though the sun that once shone warm on Raja’s face is now radiating from her.
“I love singing,” she says, smiling broadly. “I love drawing pictures and painting. I like drawing mountains and rivers…because I want to visit those places.”
And although her city is in ruins, Raja is building a future subconsciously. It’s one that takes those past horrors and weaves them into something wonderful, something that makes a difference to others.
“I’d like to be a doctor,” she says. “I want to be like the doctor who helped me, so I can help others too.”
The ten-year-old also has this to say about all that she has experienced. “These things that happened to me…they happen sometimes,” Raja reflects.
“I am just glad to be alive.”
*Name changed to protect her identity.