By Arwa Damon, INARA President and CNN Senior International Correspondent
It started eight years ago, in the kitchen of CNN’s Baghdad bureau. I was watching a horribly disfigured five-year-old boy sullenly push one grain of rice at a time between lips he couldn’t fully open.
His name was Youssif. Masked men had doused him in gasoline and set him on fire in front of his home. His face was now covered in hard rivers of scar tissue.
All of us who were involved in getting his story onto CNN, and even those who had simply met him, were anxious. I had a pit in my stomach, hoping the attention would lead to some help, terrified that it might not.
The response ended up exceeding anything we had imagined. The Children’s Burn Foundation in Los Angeles took up his case and CNN viewers donated hundreds of thousands of dollars.
With tears stinging my eyes, I was able to call his parents and report that Youssif would be going to the US for treatment. That day still remains the best moment of my career, despite having worked around the world for more than a decade.
The outpouring of support for Youssif transcended race, religion, ethnicity and came from across the globe.
Surrounded by the sheer inexplicable sorrow that is the war in Iraq, his story critically served to remind me that the kindness of strangers exists, that there are compassionate individuals out there who want to help. And his story is what led to the first thought about starting a non-profit that could engage that generosity.
As the region grew more violent, I found myself as a journalist feeling more and more helpless. Nothing we did or reported or risked was altering the disastrous violence across the region. It was as if we were screaming into a black hole.
Youssif was lucky in the sense that his father found CNN. But countless others are out there and few receive the type of assistance and support that Youssif and his family did.
In our industry we are constantly coming across similar cases of children who have fallen through the cracks, of desperate parents knocking on door after door for help but finding them closed. Sometimes we can report the story and in some instances the child receives assistance. Sometimes we can’t. But most of us at one point or another have tapped into our personal networks, pitched in for funds, and figured it out for the families and victims.
Often families don’t know that organizations already exist, and even if they do, it’s difficult to know how to navigate the system. In other instances, the wounds are so severe and complicated that organizations don’t have the manpower, time, funds, or mandate to treat the child.
Creating a non-profit that could serve to build those links, take on the cases that have fallen through the cracks, that we come across in the field or hear about, became a personal obligation. It was the only way I knew to do something that could actually make a tangible difference.
INARA developed to where it is today due to the kindness and generosity of friends, peers, professionals who have all rallied in different ways. We are still small, but it is based on that support that INARA will continue to grow our network. Our hope is that no child has to suffer the devastating consequences of war more than they already have.
In a world where evil appears to be thriving, where the global game of politics and war has shattered too many lives, where it seems that humanity has failed itself, this is our part in trying to bring people together for the sake of the most vulnerable victims of war.