Claudia Lefko: Personal Statement
Photo by Ellen Augarten
I'm an educator and longtime activist who is involved in local, national and international efforts that seek to put the well-being of children and their education at the top of the public agenda.
I began working on behalf of Iraqi children in the mid-nineties when I became aware of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Iraq. At that time UNICEF and other NGOs were estimating that as many as 5,000-7,000 children in Iraq were dying every month as a consequence of the stringent UN economic sanctions on the country. What could one do in the face of this deepening crisis? In an important, but symbolic gesture, I traveled in 2001 with a delegation taking desperately needed medicines to hospitals in Baghdad.
This was the beginning of the Art Exchange and the beginning of my personal and professional journey to expand my work, using human rights - especially the rights of children as expressed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child - as an important organizing tool. While the ICAE focuses primarily on Iraqi children, it is clear to all of us working in this field that children face desperation in every corner of the globe. The political will to meet children's needs, to make them a priority in good times and bad, is not there. This makes it even more important to engage children and youth in the Art Exchange, which enables them to raise their voices on their own behalf.
"Welcome to Our School," from the
Over the last ten years, I made two trips to Baghdad. In 2006 I began traveling twice a year to Amman, Jordan where some one million Iraqis live. There, ICAE works with individuals and organizations in art-inspired projects to support Iraqi refugee children and youth and their families.