Creating a charity was personal

Youssif walks along a California beach with CNN's Arwa Damon, who first told the boy's story in 2007.

Story highlights

  • Covering the story of a burned Iraqi boy for CNN prompted Arwa Damon to start a charity
  • INARA matches children to the medical care they need
  • Charity has worked with more than 50 war-wounded Syrian refugee children since 2015

Arwa Damon is a CNN Senior International Correspondent. She has more than a decade of experience in war zones across the Middle East and North Africa region and has often focused her work on humanitarian stories. Damon has received extensive recognition for her work including the International Women's Media Foundation 2014 Courage in Journalism Award and a 2016 Gracie. The opinions in this article are solely those of the author.

(CNN)All we knew that day, back in August 2007, was that we had to do something. As journalists, that "something" was to tell his story. Little did we know the impact it would have, or the movement that a little, horribly disfigured, 5-year-old Iraqi boy would inspire.

His name was Youssif. Masked men had doused him in gasoline and set his face on fire when he was in the street right in front of his house. To date, no one knows why.
His father had gone from ministry to ministry, pounded the pavement looking for aid organizations to help and eventually found us. His parents were beyond desperate.
    They just wanted their boy back, to see that spark come back to his eyes, to see him smile again.
    CNN's call to action ended up exceeding anything we could have ever imagined. The Children's Burn Foundation in Los Angeles took up his case and CNN viewers donated hundreds of thousands of dollars.
    That support inspired CNN's Impact Your World initiative, which continues to play a vital role in mobilizing CNN viewers and readers to help change the story. The message is simple: Everyone can make an impact.
    For those of us in Iraq, a nation that largely felt abandoned by the rest of the world, the outpouring of support overwhelmed our Iraqi staff.
    And for me personally, surrounded by the sheer inexplicable evil that is the war in Iraq, it reminded me that the kindness of strangers exists. That revelation led me to think about starting a non-profit that could tap into that generosity and build the links needed to help cases like that of Youssif.
    In our industry, we constantly come across children in dire need of life-saving or life-altering surgeries. Sometimes we can do a story on them and, in some instances, the child receives assistance. Sometimes we can't. But most of us at one point or another have tapped into our personal networks, pitched in for funds and guided families in the right direction.
    Often these families don't know what organizations exist or how to navigate the system. In other instances, the wounds are so severe and complicated, organizations don't have the mandate, manpower, funds or time to treat the child.
    As the region grew more violent, I found myself as a journalist feeling more and more helpless. Nothing we did, reported or risked was altering the disastrous violence ripping through nations. It was as if we were screaming into a dark void.