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A young Iraqi uses talent and compassion to face an unfair life

By Chris Niles

Out of school, without his parents and living in a camp for displaced people, an Iraqi boy takes a creative approach to making a better future for himself and the generation growing up amid conflict.

ERBIL, Iraq, 25 November 2015 – “I like rap music. I can express myself and send a message. I can scream a bit and shout it out, but at the same time, it’s useful and it can help people.”

© UNICEF Iraq/2015/Mackenzie
Laeth, a 16-year-old displaced by conflict, stands outside the Shanidar Park Gallery in Erbil, in Iraq's Kurdistan region.

Laeth is 16 years old. For more than a year, he’s been living in Harsham camp for displaced Iraqi people after being forced out of his home in Mosul. His father was killed in the conflict, and his mother has left the family, so he lives with his grandmother.

Yet despite all the turmoil that this young man has seen, today he’s happy.  “I’m feeling great,” he says. “Everything went well. I rehearsed with my friends, and it all came together.”

He’s talking about a performance at the UNICEF-supported child-friendly space in Harsham that he produced, staged and starred in, and which received an enthusiastic response from camp residents.

Laeth is actively involved in the social life of Harsham, a small camp on the outskirts of Erbil that is home to just over 1,400 people, mostly from Ninewa. He and his friends have started a volunteer organization to help vulnerable families. Visit the camp on any day and you’re likely to see them delivering supplies or talking to families about how to adjust to their new lives.

“This is a camp for people displaced from their homes,” he says. “And because we are also displaced, if anybody needs help, we are there to help them.”

Making sense

Laeth also likes to act. But because opportunities in such camps are slim, he now relies on music as his principal means of expression.

“I started rapping when I came to the camp, mainly to try and make sense of all that I’ve experienced,” he says. “I get ideas from walking around and seeing how people are living. Once I get an idea in my head, it’s easy to write a song.”

Laeth records the songs on his phone and mixes them with the help of his friend Rami. They have started their own YouTube channel.

As well as the personal tragedy that Laeth has suffered, the conflict has taken a toll on his education. Because his father was in the security forces and often received threats, Laeth moved around a lot. Altogether he has lost four years of schooling.

Now Laeth has been told by education authorities that he’s too old to resume his education.

© UNICEF Iraq/2015/Mackenzie
Laeth (centre) participates in a play about cholera prevention during a celebration in Shanidar Park Gallery to mark Universal Children's Day in Erbil.

“I was told that I can’t go back to school,” he says. “The feeling is indescribable. When you see something that you feel is meant for you, and when you go to reach for it, and someone says this thing is not for you, it’s devastating.”

Message of hope

But Laeth hasn’t lost hope, he is trying to find an English teacher to develop his language skills, and he continues to advocate for children’s rights in every form.

“The situation is not good for children in Iraq. They die every day, everywhere. Iraqi children need someone to save them. They are innocent. They don’t know anything about this situation. They are like flowers growing, why would you come and cut them?”

In the absence of a formal education, Laeth receives artistic and personal support from UNICEF partner NGO Terre des Hommes, and the staff in Harsham camp work with him to develop his creative talents through music and theatre.

“The main message of my art is to end the war,” he says. “All these crazy things should be over.”



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