Little heroes and their journeys in finding strength
Zinah Mohammed is an Advocacy and Campaigns Coordinator for our Iraq Country Office. In this blog, she tells us about the “Let’s Protect Them” campaign she ran in Iraq and the impact it has had on her and the children it was designed to help.
I have been a campaigner since I was a student. My motivation to campaign and advocate came purely from being someone who experienced war as a child; I fled my city and left behind everything I have ever known. I know exactly what struggles children face because of conflicts and displacement whether from my own experience or from other children around me. When the Let’s Protect Them campaign came into life, I was thrilled to build this campaign for other children like me! By working on the campaign with my colleagues, my focus was on helping children to know that they are not alone, that others are going through the same experience and have found help with the support of Save the Children.
I wanted the campaign to help parents and children to know that we can work together to protect our children and understand how conflict shapes our lives. Despite the unimaginable difficulties that conflict can bring, there is always light at the end of the tunnel: together we will find solutions to the issues that threaten the safety of children. The campaign aimed to spread awareness on child protection issues through national radio and comics series in a with child participation at the heart of it all. We decided to conduct case studies on a range of issues in Iraq that are relevant to other contexts such as child marriage, child labor, children with disabilities due to conflict, access to education, children with missing documents and violence against children. These issues were recorded by the voices of child actors and shared on a national radio through an engaging six-week voice plays series where the public could call in and share their thoughts.
The story that affected me the most was the story of young Ibrahim, a 14-year-old boy whose father was kidnapped during the conflict with ISIS in Iraq. Ibrahim found himself the only provider for his family. He reminded me of all the children I see on a near-daily basis. Whether they are begging for money or working in extremely hard circumstances, I see it most in conflict-affected cities. While reading Ibrahim’s story and talking to our caseworker who worked closely with him, I could feel the abandonment he felt by being alone. I could feel the burning summer sun that can reach up 55 degrees on his skin. I could feel his wish to get his education and to go to school just like any other child.
Ibrahim - like any child - did not deserve to go through this: he needed school, he needed his parents love and protection from harm. Yet, above all, he needed a childhood and not to have adult responsibilities force upon him.
The second part of the campaign was a series of comics, which I worked closely on with a young female artist and a social activist ‘Marina Jaber’. Marina is my age, lived through the war as a child and as she grew up she started to reflect her vision of war and peace through art. She was an inspirational person and more importantly she knows a lot about Iraq. We thought about how we can deliver his story in a way that reflects Ibrahim’s brave journey of leaving work and going back to school with the support of our caseworker. Young Ibrahim is one hero of so many children across the world. Children around the world have lost so much due to wars that are caused by adults. This is why I am a strong believer in our global campaign to Stop the War on Children.
One of the strongest parts of Ibrahim’s story was where Ibrahim found himself accused of stealing and was imprisoned. This comic showed the amount of sadness in his eyes that I felt while scripting his story and quoting his words “I felt like I had suddenly lost my youth, I was a grown up”.
The artist Marina turned Ibrahim’s story into a beautiful comic that showed both the struggle and the hope that Save the Children’s work gave him. Just like Ibrahim’s story, we started sharing the comics on social media and we received feedback from our audience. Some of the audience were actually people who have gone through similar situations as children or have relatives facing the same issues and trying to find help. The engagement was not only through media but also on the ground - field staff were informing us that a higher number of visitors are coming to our centers seeking support.
In Ibrahim’s story, it is his mom’s visit to our positive parental classes that altered her and Ibrahim’s life forever. When Ibrahim’s mother realized how much Ibrahim needed to go back to school, she ended up finding a job for herself as a cleaner to support him.