Help is on the way for Youssif
By Wayne Drash: CNN.com Senior Producer: August 23, 2007
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Few stories have touched CNN.com users like that of 5-year-old Youssif, an Iraqi boy who had gone out to play on a January day when he was suddenly grabbed by masked men, doused in gas and set on fire.
CNN.com users responded by the thousands to the story asking how they could help. But there were tricky and difficult issues the family had to suddenly confront, as several aid organizations quickly offered their services.
Specifically, the family had to make a decision on whether to leave their homeland or stay inside Iraq for treatment. If they chose to leave, could they get visas to travel to the United States or leave Iraq safely? Further complicating matters is the fact that few aid organizations remain in Iraq; most moved out months ago due to the constant threat of being targeted.
Leaving one's homeland is never an easy choice to make, even during war. But the family has decided Youssif should seek treatment in the United States.
The Children's Burn Foundation -- a non-profit organization based out of Sherman Oaks, California, that provides support for burn victims locally, nationally and internationally -- has agreed to pay for the transportation for Youssif and his family to come to the United States and to set up a fund so you can donate. See photos of Youssif before and after the attack »
The foundation says it will cover all medical costs -- from surgeries for Youssif to housing costs to any social rehabilitation that might be needed for him. Surgeries will be performed by Dr. Peter Grossman, a plastic surgeon with the affiliated-Grossman Burn Center who is donating his services for Youssif's cause.
Officials are still trying to get the appropriate visas for his travels. Youssif could be in the United States for up to a year for the various treatments he needs.
You can make a donation at the foundation's site by clicking here. There's a drop down menu under the "general donation" area that is marked "Youssif's fund."
When informed of the news in Baghdad, Youssif ran around his house, saying, "Daddy, daddy, am I really going to get on a plane?!"
Youssif's father was also cheered by the news. "I feel like I am going to fly from happiness," his father told CNN's Arwa Damon, who reported the story on what happened to Youssif.
Barbara Friedman, executive director of the Children's Burn Foundation, said she and others at the foundation were deeply moved when they first read the piece.
"In terms of a personal reaction, the only thing I could say is it takes your breath away -- because it's just so unfathomable, that that kind of brutality and violence was undertaken in a premeditated way against a defenseless child," she told CNN.com.
"From the foundation's perspective, our immediate reaction was: Can we help? How can we help? We want to help. This is what we do."
Many of you had the same reaction. "This kind of thing breaks my heart," wrote CNN.com user Jessica Allen. "To see that smiling adorable face before that day that he was so brutally attacked is enough to make you cry. How could someone do this to anyone, let alone a child?"
Others pleaded for CNN to act. "CNN, if you put this on for us to read, then you should allow us to donate," wrote Brian Quinn.
The story -- published and broadcast on Wednesday -- has been one of the most-read, non-breaking news stories in CNN.com's 13-year history.
"We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for Youssif and his family, and are grateful that the Children's Burn Foundation and the Grossman Burn Center have volunteered to help," said Mitch Gelman, CNN.com's senior vice president and senior executive producer.
"It is heart-warming and restorative to see such generosity and goodness emerging from this truly unspeakable horror."