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Iraq's Orphans Left to the Kindness of Strangers

gripped by war.

"Iraq has never been a more difficult and dangerous place to be a child," according to the UN children's agency (UNICEF), whose website gives a litany of problems including: a serious decline in immunizations, signs of stunted growth for "one in five Iraqi children," falling education rates, less pre-natal and obstetric care, not to mention children "orphaned by violence almost daily."

In much of the capital the only thing that keeps this growing number of orphans off the streets is the kindness of strangers.

In Sadr City, a vast Shiite slum in northeast Baghdad controlled by the political movement of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, Husham Hassan, 37, cares for around 30 orphans in a home funded by private donations.

Prior to opening the "Safety House," Hassan worked for another private organisation established in 2003 to care for Baghdad's orphans.

But four months ago the organization was forced to close for financial reasons. Fearing for the orphans he helped care for, Hassan opened his own facility with funds collected from friends and neighbours.

The house is cramped but clean, the bunkbeds are freshly made, and the children, aged five to 16, are active and healthy. Volunteers teach reading and math, play with the children, sew clothes, and prepare meals.

"I am in charge of sport activities and sometimes give the kids lessons in reading and mathematics," says Salim Hassan, a volunteer, as he rinses out pans used to cook the children's lunch.

"I volunteered to serve these children without any charge. I regard myself as their father and I have good relations with them. They are just like sons."

Haasan, the director of the centre, relies on the local community for everything, and not by choice.

"When I opened this house four months ago, I did my best to get support from the government through writing appeals and requests," Hassan said. "I even invite
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