Telling Iraqi Boy’s Story, CNN’s Arwa Damon Found a Cause

By Mark Joyella 

When CNN correspondent Arwa Damon reported on the horrific case of a four-year-old Iraqi boy, Youssif, who was doused with gasoline and set on fire in 2007, she didn’t know it would be the beginning of a long personal relationship.

“Youssif impacted me in ways that at the time I could not have perceived,” Damon told TVNewser. “Seeing him today, almost a decade later, I am once again reminded about the importance of the impact in changing a child’s narrative, in changing their life-defining moment from being one of cruelty and evil to kindness and compassion.”

10a CNNi Europe AircheckAs Damon reported in 2007, Youssif had been playing outside his family’s home in Baghdad when a group of masked men attacked him. The senselessness and suffering hit a nerve with viewers. “Youssif became a rallying point, a way that people could make a tangible difference even if it was just in one child’s life,” Damon said. “And Youssif captivated all of us.”

In the nine years since the story first aired, donors have covered the cost of extensive medical care to treat Youssif’s burns. His family has moved to Los Angeles, where he will enter high school in the fall. “The angry-at-the-world-five-year-old has been replaced by a teen who wants to be a doctor and help others,” Damon told TVNewser after visiting with him for an update story on his life in America:

The transformation in Youssif’s life from horror to hope became the inspiration for a charity, Inara, which Damon co-founded. The nonprofit works to help children impacted by war, and is focused currently on providing medical assistance to kids from Syria.

“We have an obligation to try to change the narratives of these children so that they too, like Youssif, aren’t utterly consumed by the horrific circumstances brought on by war and are given a chance at life they should never have been robbed of in the first place,” Damon said.