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‘Well Wishes and Blessings’ Aims to Connect Kids in U.S. and Iraq

Award-winning composer and musician Ruth Mendelson spent much of 2006 traveling across America and interviewing kids ages 3 to 19 to record their well wishes for the people in Iraq as well as their thoughts about peace and life in general for a CD collection of words, songs and raps. Titled Well Wishes and Blessings: Kids in America to Iraq, the project intends to bridge children across the world in an expression of good will and common hopes for peace. Conceived as a humanitarian initiative, it is intended to transcend individual political and religious beliefs.

The CD recording interweaves kids’ spoken words with their on-site musical contributions, from traditional Sanskrit chant and African-American gospel to rap music and original songs. Distribution for the CD in Iraq through educational and humanitarian channels is underway, with translations of the material provided. The hope is that, ultimately, as safety and provisions allow, there will be an opportunity for Iraqi kids to record and send messages back for children in the U.S.

Communicating the kindness and words of wisdom from American kids of diverse ethnic backgrounds is “an important tool for developing understanding and therefore lasting peace,” says Dr. Jane Goodall, UN Messenger of Peace and founder of the Jane Goodall Institute. Goodall is endorsing the Well Wishes and Blessings project, calling it “a fantastic program that is building bridges between our world’s youth.”

“I had no idea there was going to be such an outpouring of interest for this project,” Mendelson says. Through word-of-mouth and e-mail communications, what began as a local project became a national project in three weeks.

The first wave of enthusiasm was from Boston-area parents. “The consistent comment I heard was, ‘I’m so relieved someone is doing something like this; I feel so helpless, and I don’t know what to do,'” Mendelson says. Next came a chorus of interest from the kids themselves. Mendelson started receiving e-mails from teens around the country wanting to help interview kids in their communities for the project.

Although Mendelson didn’t have any professional portable recording gear at first, an 83-year-old woman who lived in California contacted her when she learned of the project and asked what was needed. The woman mailed her a check that day. A teacher in New Hampshire was so impressed with the interview session that she wrote Mendelson a check to cover travel expenses to other schools around the country. “We literally ran out of recording equipment, and people have donated extra recording gear and volunteered to help conduct interviews in various parts of the country,” Mendelson says.

The recording sessions lasted anywhere from two minutes to an hour, depending on the ages of the kids and how engaged they were. Many kids spontaneously offered songs, Mendelson says, “which is amazing, because one of things I’ve learned about Iraqi culture is that one of the ways they express love on a day-to-day basis is to sing to one another.”

A week after the CD was completed, a physician in Boston contacted Mendelson telling her about a 5-year-old who had been flown to Boston for medical care after his ear was burned off in war-torn Iraq. Mendelson went to meet them at the Shriners Burn Institute with a stuffed animal and a copy of the CD. The graciousness of the boy’s father and the kisses blown to her by the child were “one of the moving demonstrations that peace begins one heart at a time,” Mendelson says.

“The main thing I heard from kids regardless of age or region or ethnicity is that they very much want to express to the world that they care,” she continues. “They want everyone to get along. Almost every child and youth I’ve spoken to emphasizes the importance of talking things out rather than fighting, even the 5-year-olds.”

For more information about Well Wishes and Blessings, visit