By Richard Engel, Middle East bureau chief
I have been humbled, overjoyed and, at times, brought to tears by their ability to cope, even smile and play, despite their tragedy. For the past two years, we have followed the lives of the Hussein sisters, Marwa, Aliya and Sora, orphaned and institutionalized after their parents were murdered in front of them northeast of Baghdad. When we returned last month to the Baghdad orphanage where they now live, my first impression was that the girls are stuck in time. I saw them in the same dining room eating the same lunch (rice with a little chicken and yogurt), playing the same games (basketball and ring around the rosy) in the same yard surrounded by (new) barred windows. But after visiting Marwa, Aliya and Sora for several days, it was clear their future is as uncertain as Iraq. Marwa has become a victim of her growing beauty. She's only fifteen, but has matured physically and been forced to move to an orphanage for older girls. Now men are trying to marry her. Even her teachers are trying to set her up, believing it's a good option – a future, a degree of stability -- for an orphaned girl. In Iraqi culture orphans are often ostracized. Once they turn18, orphans sometimes end up on the streets. The younger Hussein girls, Sora and Aliya, miss their sister. She used to take care of them. They still have nightmares.
Our previous story about the Hussein sisters and Iraqi orphans have generated an enormous outpouring from generous NBC News viewers. Some have even offered to open their own homes. Unfortunately, it is illegal under Iraqi law for foreigners to adopt Iraqi children, even Iraqi-Americans. There are, however, several charities working to help children like Marwa, Aliya and Sora. One is the International Rescue Committee. The group accepts donations. Please also feel free to ask questions or comment directly on this blog. There are many causalities in Iraq – not least of which are the American soldiers and Iraqi civilians -- but at times children are most vulnerable to the unpredictable vicissitudes of these violent and changing times of war.