CNN’s Arwa Damon on her Incredible Initiative to Help Children in Conflict Areas
It was on a #GivingTuesday that INARA caught my attention for the second time this year. Here’s an organisation set up by a senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon (whose reports from conflict areas in the Middle East many of us have watched for years)… an organisation dedicated to helping as many children from conflict areas get desperately-needed medical help, as they can. Funded through a mix of donations and grants, INARA looks to help children in Lebanon, but with the idea of expanding beyond.
SheThePeople.TV checked in with the incredible Arwa Damon for more on this new, life-changing mission.
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1) What led you to set up INARA? As a reporter covering war-torn areas in the Middle East, was it very much born of first-hand, on-ground experience?
My need to do something tangible to help refugee children started in Iraq in August 2007. We had just met a little boy named Youssif. Masked men had doused him in gasoline and set him on fire. His entire face was covered in hard rivers of scar tissue. He was sullen, quiet and angry. His parents were beyond desperate. They wanted their son back; to see him smile again and see that spark back in his eyes. But they struggled to find the help that they needed, searching from hospital to hospital, ministry to ministry.
By chance a friend of theirs who worked close to our bureau mentioned CNN and he appeared at our door. From the moment we met him, we all knew we had to do something to help. We reported his story on CNN and the response was overwhelming. This outpour of support transcended race, religion, ethnicity and came from across the globe.
Very soon after reporting, the Children’s Burn Foundation in Los Angeles came forward to take on Youssif’s case. CNN viewers donated hundreds of thousands of dollars. The best moment of my career was when I called his parents and told them this little boy would be getting help.
It reminded me that the kindness of strangers exists. It triggered a thought: what if I could tap into that network of generosity to help refugee children in desperate need of medical help? That is when my idea for INARA began.
The best moment of my career was when I called his parents and told them this little boy would be getting help.
2) What has been most moving for you in this journey/ new avatar? (Eg being a change-maker and working with people trying to make a difference to children’s lives?)
Witnessing the children and their families change. There is nothing that quite compares to hearing a child laugh and watching their parents eyes fill with tears of happiness because they haven’t heard that sound since their child was wounded. By the mere act of helping, providing them with a support system we start to chance their narrative. And that has an impact that transcends just the medical assistance we provide.
3) Can you share some information for an international audience. We have watched from afar in horror — but in terms of how INARA helps identify these severe cases? How does it work? You’re partnering with UNICEF as well…
Firstly let’s focus on our criteria.
We help children from conflict areas who have catastrophic injuries. These children could get these injuries from the Syrian war itself, or from living as refugees in Lebanon in unsafe, cramped and unhygienic living conditions.
Our work focuses on preventing disability or enabling mobility. For instance Rend, whose hands were burnt in an airstrike. The burns were so severe that her fingers had fused together, meaning she couldn’t pick up a pen. We matched her to medical support to separate her fingers and now she’s back at school. This is the impact that our work has.
In terms of how we find our cases, this is all down to the strong and established network of humanitarian organizations we work with. They are all aware of what cases we can help and refer children to us. The families we provide assistance to also help us by spreading word of our work to their friends and family who may have injured children as well.
4) Does it sometimes feels like that the world has forgotten about these stories or the horrors of war — can you share with us some personal stories/ anecdotes on the differences being made for each family.
Sometimes as a journalist I felt that everyone in the press was screaming into a dark void in an attempt to appeal to humanity. But the case of Youssif reminded me that people out there do care.
Creating INARA has furthered this belief. A large part of our work is telling the stories of these families and children to the world and it’s so comforting to see people responding, donating, and sharing our work.
What we find time and time again is that medical treatment for a child not only prevents disability or improves mobility, but has huge psychological and social impacts on the child and the rest of the family.
Take Layla, for instance. Her leg was burnt and, if not operated on, she would have faced permanent disability. Her father did his absolute best to raise the money for his daughter but work is hard to find for Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
He had almost lost hope until Layla’s case was referred to us. And the impact that this treatment has had on Layla and the family is huge. Her father told us: “We’re more relaxed as a family now. When Layla was hurt it was torture for us. We would go to different doctors and constantly get ‘no’ as an answer. Now we don’t have to fret about that.”
5) Are there plans to work beyond Beirut?
We do work beyond Beirut. Initially when we first launched we worked in the Beirut and Mount Lebanon areas, but now our work has expanded across the whole of Lebanon. We hope to expand regionally soon, identifying the gaps in medical provision in other countries, and helping even more refugee children.
6) And finally: Have you seen a positive response from people as potential donors — on social and otherwise?
Absolutely! We’re growing as an organization every single day. The number of donors is increasing every single month and people are so responsive and positive about our work on social media. We have said all along that the only way we can help these children is with the kindness of donors. We can change these families’ narratives and remind them that the world hasn’t turned its back on them. Together we really can make a difference to the lives of these children.
Do log on to INARA’s site to find out more about what you can do to help.
Check out highlights from the Inara annual report:
- We have assisted 46 children. 9 children have completed their medical treatment with us. 19 children are still receiving ongoing treatment. We have referred 18 children onto other organizations, who have then gone on to receive medical care.
- We have spent $164,508 on the 28 children that we work or have worked with. This includes all medical, logistical and caseworker costs.
- We raised $389,064 in total. 51% of this came from individual donations and 49% came from grants.
Feature Image Credit: Inara.org