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. It has become much more multifaceted and multidisciplinary, crossing traditional lines to borrow and integrate theory and best practice in child development and psychology. It now sits at an intersection of art and medicine, resilience, psychosocial intervention and children's rights as outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. But, all of this explaining and the broader understanding of what the project is about, has come after-the-fact, really. It began very simply in 2001 as a way to bring attention to a humanitarian crisis for children in Iraq.

Dr. Mazin Al-Jadiry, Dr. Mark W. Kieran and Dr. Anna Maria Testi with unidentified pathologist

The journey would not be possible without the help, patience, insights and guidance of Drs. Mazin and Salma and other Iraqis - artists and colleagues - who have been willing to work with me and with ICAE.