Photographer Ali Arkady started his dangerous journey to Baghdad, Iraq, in July. He had one goal: spend close to a year with a group of Iraq's orphans, a story he wanted the world to hear about. Thousands of children have lost their parents in Iraq's recent bloody past, but many of them are cared for by extended family.
These children are the forgotten ones, with no family to take them in. Arkady packed his gear and spent nine months with 33 children at a safe house for some of Iraq's most neglected. "They are a bunch of children, very vulnerable and very sensitive to their outside world," Arkady said. "Since then, I think of them every day and I wish them luck."
The children's stories are heartbreaking. "Where is my mom? Do you think one day she will come to take me home?" a boy asked Arkady during his time there. "That moment, tears rolled down my eyes," the photographer said. "But I told him: 'We are your family and your friends. We are here for you.' "
Arkady began his photojournalist work in 2010, focusing on the humanitarian side of Iraq's conflict. The country has seen a U.S.-led invasion in 2003, sectarian violence in 2007 and 2008, and the battle against ISIS most recently. Arkady has focused on the victims, doing documentary film work on wounded Iraqis and mentoring Yazidi girls who fled ISIS. This project let him work with Iraq's next generation.
"I taught them to use my cameras," he said. "I taught them how to paint. I even taught them how to be a good tailor." The safe house team keeps the children busy with classes, sports and entertainment. "But there are moments when (the children) sit and think. I see it," Arkady said. "They look sad and lonely because some still have a father or a mother somewhere that knows nothing about them."
They live amid a backdrop of war. "Baghdad itself is not safe anymore due to ongoing explosions," Arkady said. As they've gotten older, some of the children have found government jobs or gotten married. But for many of them, the safe house is all they have.
Ali Arkady is an Iraqi photographer who was selected for the VII Mentor Program. You can follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
By Mohammed Tawfeeq