ORPHANS OF KURDISTAN

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The empty rooms of the orphanage echo with muffled sounds, that bounce off their yellowish walls. The few remaining children are all upstairs, gathered together in the same toy room. There are only ten of them left, barefoot on discolored carpets. The others were sent to their relatives’ homes in Iraq because the state employees have not been paid since August, and maintaining the orphanages is no longer possible.

The front line is just a hundred kilometers from Suleimania, a city on the border with Iran. Besides the orphanage children, even the peshmerga fighting the Isis are affected by the crisis that has frozen the existence of nearly five million people. The soldiers demand their rights by threatening strikes and demonstrations similar to those that took place in Suleimania and Halabja last October, when thousands of teachers took over the streets and six demonstrators were killed. Violence, however, is not enough to stop the corruption of the political class, exacerbated by the war, the oil price at a historical low, and the tug of war over the funds with the central government in Baghdad.

Anwar Omar Ali is the director of the boys’ orphanage of Suleimania, where about thirty children live. “Zardasht was born in 2006 – he says – He’s the son of an orphan who ran away from home. His father was killed before he was born. In 2010 his mother, mentally unstable, remarried an already married man with children, and now lives in a shack full of junk and garbage”. Zardasht’s case was reported by the Kurdistan organization Save the Children- KSC, and he has been entrusted to social services. “The child asked insistently about his mother – continues the director – so last year he was taken to visit her. Until a few minutes before entering his old home he wondered how many floors there were. When he saw his mother’s living conditions he got scared and run away”.

Shilan is a sixteen year old girl who would like to continue studying, but no one can drive her to evening school classes. “The drivers end their shift at four – explains an employee – but due to the crisis they don’t even show up at work”. Shilan went to school until the fourth grade and occasionally asks to fill her empty days with a few books. “She is nervous, she can’t sleep at night – says the assistant – She should see a psychologist. Two years ago she asked to move in with her mother, but returned after a few weeks accusing her stepfather of attempting to rape her. Sometimes we give her some money from our pocket – she concludes – but she needs love, not money”.

Every year on the occasion of No Ruz, the Talabani Foundation organizes tours to the bazaar where orphans can buy traditional clothing, shoes and jewelery and feel more equal to other children. “Why don’t we look at people for what they are – questions with bitterness Noaman Ali, in charge of the KSC projects – instead of judging them for the family - or non-family, they came from?”. The organization works with the Ministry of Social Affairs and countsfrom  about 200 registered orphans throughout the country. Thanks to the foundation Talabani and international private sponsors, the children are supported through economic programs (checks from $20 to $40 a month), and legal and family arrangements (reunions and foster care). Until some time ago the government provided the orphans with a personal bank account that they could use once they became adult. “About $ 60 a month up to 18 years – explains saddened Gulpi Omar Abdulla, director of the social development of the governorate Suleimania – and $90 if they were enrolled at the university”.

First as a guest, now as a keeper, Karzan has never really left the orphanage. Children love him and not fall asleep without him. He has his eyes down, his face long and triangular. “Every place in this orphanage – he says – holds a memory. The bathroom for example, makes me think of when I used to hide there to smoke. I carry with me in my heart all the other children, even though we do not see much”. Karzan married in 2010 and now dreams of a family “because the only thing that makes me happy is being able to get back home and hug someone”.