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NZ woman looks out for the children of Iraq

New Zealand woman looks out for the children of Iraq

While much of the Arab media is focusing on the effects of war on Iraq's 13 million children, it is also the concern of a New Zealander, Heather MacLeod. Ms MacLeod is World Vision's International Child Protection Coordinator, and a consultant to the United Nations for the Iraq situation. She arrived in Amman, Jordan, this week, to brief World Vision workers in the region, and to help design programmes to aid families affected by the war in Iraq.

While other aid workers are concerned for the physical needs of the children caught in the conflict, Heather MacLeod is concerned for their mental well being as well.

"Some children have more resilience to deal with fearful situations; others do not," she says. The first dramatic change to their lives is the war, then it's the aid workers. The children find themselves trying to determine what might be a threat and what is not, she says.

"Children don't understand everything around them, but they do absorb signals about what's good and not so good." Ms MacLeod, who has worked with World Vision in war-torn Rwanda, Sudan and Romania, is working on programmes to assist with the psycho-social needs of war-affected people.

UNICEF's Iraq representative Carel De Rooy, was quoted in the Jordan Times this week saying, "I suspect that some half a million children in Basra, Najaf, Karbala, and Baghdad would possibly need psycho-social rehabilitation once we go in."

Assessment documents referring to the physical needs of Iraq's children put chronic malnutrition at about 30 percent. Gauging the mental trauma is much more difficult.

"Children need to know they have a safe place, and providing that safe zone is one of the first steps to gaining trust. But looking after the minds of war-affected children is not a stand-alone, one-time programme. Child protection must be integrated into all sectors, including health, nutrition, education, and efforts to assist refugees. Child protection is a humanitarian worker's mandate," says Ms MacLeod.

No one is certain how long the conflict in Iraq will last, and now with the battle of Baghdad looming, the country's most populated city seems destined for more days of fear for its children. While the war rages on, hidden away from the TV cameras, children will be waiting, scared and fearful of an uncertain future.

World Vision New Zealand is accepting donations for relief aid in Iraq. Please phone 0800 77 66 76 to make a donation or visit World Vision's website: http://www.worldvision.org.nz

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