Iraqi leukemia survivor thanks Japan for help

by Tetsuo Shintomi


Bedridden as a child with leukemia during the Iraq war, Hawraa Jamel found that the only way she could believe in a better future was by drawing flowers.

Now 19 and a high school student, she began her drawings after she contracted leukemia at the age of 9. She fought the condition for two years.

Some of the more than 1,000 drawings she has done so far appear in a Japanese picture book titled “Haura no Akai Hana” (“Hawraa’s Red Flowers”). The text is by Maki Sato, secretary-general of the Japan Iraq Medical Network (JIM-NET), a Tokyo-based organization that mainly provides medical assistance for children with leukemia and other forms of cancer in Iraq.

Jamel said she recovered largely because of moral and logistical support from JIM-NET.

“Japanese people saved my life,” she said. “I want to thank them a thousand times.”

This past summer, the organization invited her to Japan to draw and to speak to children here during a two-week stay.

Jamel was born in Samawah, southern Iraq, in July 1996.

She saw many patients dying from leukemia during her time in the hospital. She wondered whether she, too, would die as her body weakened and her pain worsened day by day.

Some blame the disease on depleted uranium munitions used by the United States-led forces that invaded in 2003.

One day at hospital, a teacher for child patients handed Jamel colored pencils, telling her to draw anything she liked.

The first thing that came to mind was a red rose signifying love and hope. She said she felt peace whenever she was drawing.

Jamel says she still hears gunshots outside her home almost every day and cannot stop crying when people are killed or injured in bombings.

Her father has also started taking part in the fighting, saying that he wants to protect his family and friends.

“I want to be a doctor in the future so I can treat people who suffer from leukemia and cancer,” Jamel said.