Ghorfat Almarah, The Joy Room


Doctors and Head Nurse Rasmiya, January 2004

The Iraqi Children's Art Exchange began with a visit to the children's cancer ward at Al Mansour Pediatric Hospital, Baghdad in December 2000/January 2001. We had some 400 drawing from children/youth in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts and art supplies for the sick Iraqi children. With the encouragement and support of doctors and nurses on that ward, we gave children the art from the US and asked them to make art in response.

We visited this same ward again in January 2004, checking in the with same doctors and nurse we'd met in 2001 and exchanging more art. Since that visit it has been too dangerous to travel to Iraq, and it has been nearly impossible for any kind of communication with the hospital or doctors.

Zahra'a Marzook, 5 years old, 2001

This spring however, all of that changed when Faiza Al Araji, our Iraqi partner returned to Baghdad and visited the hospital, now renamed Children's Welfare Teaching Hospital. She found Drs. Mazin and Salma and Rasmiya the nurse, still there caring for an ever-increasing population of young patients with cancer and leukemia. She told them we wanted to create and support a play/activity room on the unit; they agreed and Faiza began overseeing the purchase of toys and other equipment and hired a part-time staff person to be on the ward five days/week.

About the Project

The Iraqi Children's Art Exchange, working in partnership with the staff on the cancer unit at the Children's Welfare Teaching Hospital, Medical City Baghdad, has created an activity/play space for the young patients on the ward. We hired a staff person, purchased some equipment-- a small table, chairs and a storage cabinet-- brought toys, educational and art materials into the space, and launched the program. The children have named it Ghorfat Almarah, The Joy Room.

Ghorfat Almarah supplements and supports medical care by creating opportunities to address the social, emotional and developmental needs of the children on the cancer unit. They are sick and in the hospital, but they are still children, with the same basic needs. They need a safe place where they can play because this is children's "work", it is how they learn about and come to understand themselves and the often-times confusing world around them. They need opportunities to express themselves and to interact in meaningful ways with other children and caring adults. They need creative, informal learning opportunities, and a range of materials to help develop and sustain cognitive, social and emotional skills and competencies that will enable them to function effectively in the worlds they inhabit inside and outside of the hospital.

Ghorfat Almarah supplements and supports medical care

The project is multidisciplinary, crossing traditional lines to borrow and integrate theory and best practice in the fields of child development, education, psychology, arts and science. It is a psychosocial intervention and support for Iraqi children/youth whose lives have been seriously impacted by illness and by the ongoing conflict and violence in their country. We believe that the project is significant, even in this very early stage. Having a designated work/play space, with familiar materials and activities can help normalize and organize the life of a sick child who has left pretty much all that is familiar --including family, friends, school and other social support systems-- outside the hospital door.

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