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A Syrian's risky choice to help young Iraqis heal

Forbidden to help refugees, a Syrian state pyschiatrist put his job on the line to treat Iraqi children.

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Just 8 years old, Noor fell victim to an all-too-common crime in Baghdad. Kidnapped from school, she was held for ransom – beaten, blindfolded, and locked in an empty room – for four days.

Her father raced to come up with the money, fearing she would be yet another casualty in the city's plague of abductions. A driver by occupation, he sold the family's car to give his tormenters what they wanted: $8,000 for his daughter's life.

Noor and her family fled Baghdad. But three years later she was still haunted by her memories. They joined some 1 million Iraqis now living in Syria – among them an untold number of children struggling to cope with the emotional wounds of war.

For Noor, and many other Iraqi children like her, there appeared to be no place to turn until a Syrian psychiatrist, risking his job at a state institution, defied authorities and decided to help.

Dr. Naim isn't his real name. The Syrian psychiatrist says he is afraid of his Syrian state employers who refused to allow him to treat Iraqi children, even though he volunteered to do so on his own time.

In the same Christian neighborhood where Noor and her family lives is a small center run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.

"The nuns would come and visit us and other Iraqi families at home," Noor's mother, Wafaa, says. "They told us about a program for children that was going to be held at the church."

It was there that Noor, a Christian, and the doctor, a Muslim, first met.

Naim had worked with the Sisters before, helping a handful of troubled Syrians whom the nuns had referred to him. But soon he saw the need for another kind of program.

"The nuns were seeing a lot of disturbed Iraqi children," he says, from his sparsely furnished office in central Damascus.


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