Video: Inside an Iraqi orphanage

By Richard Engel Chief foreign correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/26/2006 9:14:55 PM ET 2006-05-27T01:14:55

They are some of the forgotten children of the war. Fifty-six girls, ages 6 to 13. Home for them: Baghdad's Alwiya Orphanage.

Huddled together, we found the Hussein sisters: Marwa, serious, already like a grown up at 13; Alliya, 10 and detached; and little Sora, 6 and mischievous.

Two years ago, the girls were orphaned overnight when gunmen burst into their home and executed their parents.

"I heard the shots. My father was still breathing, but my mother died right away," Marwa says.

When Alliya hears gunfire today, she thinks people are trying to shoot at her.

"I dream about when my parents were killed and wake up scared," Alliya says.

Their counselor says there are more orphans now, more families falling apart. Marwa is trying to hold what's left of her family together. She has become a little mother to her sisters, washing their clothes along with the sheets when they wet the bed during nightmares.

"I give them showers and let them play near me," Marwa says.

The girls can't play outside. It's too dangerous. They can only go as far as the courtyard.

Since we've been here it's really clear that these girls are starved for attention. They've been coming up all day and just taking our hands. One girl called our cameraman "Daddy."

The director of the orphanage says what they miss most is tenderness — their mother's touch.

One girl asked if I had any children, and if I would take her with me. I wanted to bundle them all up and find them homes, especially when we're told their future looks bleak.

Alliya wants to be a teacher. Marwa, a doctor. But those might only be dreams, like when Marwa fantasizes about talking to her parents.

"I would just say to them: 'I love you,'" she says.

We came to the orphanage looking for a story. In the end, I didn't want to leave. We found signs of a generation being lost to war.

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