Jeffrey Fleishman and Raheem Salman had a devastating piece in the Los Angeles Times Saturday called "Childhood cut short in Baghdad."
"Come to Sadr City and follow the children," the piece begins, "the one hauling flour on his
donkey, the one collecting garbage on his tractor, the two brothers
with bowl haircuts and greasy hands hoisting mufflers and car batteries
in the late morning heat. A lot of kids here can't tell you what 6 x 3 is. They can't read. They
have no time to play. They work from dawn until after the moon is high.
They are children in size only."
Bloodshed and years of unrest are harsh teachers, especially in Sadr
City, where 30% of children have quit school, according to a Baghdad
human resources office. That estimate is probably low. A United Nations
report found that 94% of boys in Iraq attend elementary school, but
that drops to 44% by high school. For girls, 81% start elementary
school; 31% go on to high school.
There is no classroom in Ali Kadhim Baidani's long day. His father is
bent and old, and Ali, 15, collects garbage on his tractor to help
provide for his family of nine. In 2001, his clan moved to Sadr City
from the marshes southeast of Amarah. The tractor was meant to farm the
fields rimming Baghdad, but at 5 a.m. each day Ali drives it from the
furrows to pick up trash in streets and alleys, heading toward the dump
about 2 p.m.
When he returns home, his younger brothers circle to hear stories from
the city. They help him wash his hands, brush the dust from his
clothes. The eldest son, Ali has never been to school; his childhood is
like his tractor -- turned over to other responsibilities. He attends
funerals and weddings in place of his father, the family representative
to neighbors and the world.
"The happiest moment for me," he said, "is when I receive money from
the [garbage] contractor and give it to my father to spend on my
family ... I will work in this job and when the job is finished, I
will search for another."
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