When she dances, Annie Nektel, 10, forgets about the brutality of life outside the Baghdad School of Music and Ballet.
Cheerfully, she tries to teach dance steps to her friend Meriam (last name unavailable) and other girls in her ballet class.
"I used to train in front of the window, but my mother would not let me. She was afraid that I would be hit," Nektel says. "Ballet is a sport for me. It is good training for the muscles, and I could not give up my practice."
Outside the school walls, many parents wait to walk their children home and armed guards patrol.
"My mum is afraid that I will be kidnapped," Meriam says. Others nod, saying they can only play outside if family members are present. The fear of bombs, kidnappings, attacks and gun battles has become part of everyday life.
Late last year, the guards found bombs planted outside the entrance, a grenade inside and threatening graffiti on the wall. A month prior several people were killed in the area and, for the second time, looters took most of the school's instruments, mirrors and dancing carpets.
The guards say it's a dangerous job, especially at night. But they are happy they can protect the children.
Established in 1968, the school serves 250 children and is the only one of its kind in the Middle East. The ELCA and other partners of Action by Churches Together International support the school through Norwegian Church Aid.
Lessons are available for 15 different instruments. Music students are again practicing after their looted instruments were replaced, thanks to a Norwegian orchestra.
When asked if they could sing a song, most students couldn't think of any. After awhile they remembered two— both praising deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Musical creativity wasn't enjoyed under the former regime.
Tore Winsvold of Norwegian Church Aid said when students listen to music, they now "forget some of the things that have taken place." And they dream— of a day when Baghdad will once again be safe, when they can tear down the walls and share their music with others.
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers