Sewage floods the streets as Rahim AlHaj struggles to walk through the filth and stench in a ruined neighborhood southeast of Baghdad. These are the same streets where he used to play as a child.
“I was heartbroken,” said AlHaj in a phone interview. “Kids don’t even have a place to play outside.”
Having just returned from a one-month trip to Iraq, he said Baghdad hospitals were packed with sick children, clean water was scarce and there was no electricity since the bombing ended.
But AlHaj, an exiled Iraqi composer and musician, is using his music to help his countrymen. He will be playing a benefit concert in Columbia on Saturday to collect money for the children of Iraq.
AlHaj has been living in exile for 13 years, the last four in Albuquerque, N.M. His trip was an opportunity to distribute the nearly $15,000 he collected during a series of benefit concerts held in the United States.
He continues to travel and perform at concerts to raise money for humanitarian projects in Iraq that focus on children.
According to the U.N. Children’s Fund, one in five Iraqi children under the age of 5 is chronically malnourished and one in eight dies before their fifth birthday.
“The most critical issue now is survival,” said Alfred Ironside, a UNICEF spokesman.
Another report released by Enfants du Monde, a French nonprofit that runs projects for children in Iraq, states exploitative child labor has become more prevalent since the war ended and the number of street children is rising.
“Some of these working children are the sole breadwinners of the family due to death, disability or unemployment of their parents,” the report states.
AlHaj was invited to perform in Columbia by Rihab Sawah, the host and producer of “Arab music Arab culture” on KOPN. She first heard AlHaj’s music on “Democracy Now,” a syndicated morning radio show.
She initially considered having AlHaj on her show via phone, but after discovering that he performed benefit concerts, she decided to organize a concert in Columbia. Concert costs are being paid for by sponsors, she said.
“This is the first time I have done anything like this,” Sawah said. “I’m expecting a full house.”
AlHaj will perform on Saturday from 7 to 9 p.m. at Windsor Auditorium on the Stephens College campus.
Sawah said profits from the concert will be channeled to humanitarian projects in Iraq.