After years in U.S., burned Iraqi boy hopes to help others

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(CNN)Nearly a decade ago, 4-year-old Youssif sullenly pushed grains of rice through his lips in the kitchen of our Baghdad bureau.

His face was hardened into rivers of scar tissue that kept him from being able to open his mouth.
    Masked men had doused him in gasoline and set him on fire outside his own home.
    I remember his anger, which was so deep for a child so young. His parents were at a loss. All they wanted their little boy back — and to hear him laugh again.
    Elsewhere, he would have to start over.
    The furniture and toys in the family home are mostly donated. The family has three children: Youssif; his younger sister, Aya; and the youngest, Mustafa, who was born in the U.S. They all share one room, with Youssif sleeping on a pullout couch, but the children don’t let this bring them down.
    Youssif talks about a class project during which he discovered a superhero he related to: Superman.
    “Each person had to choose one superhero,” he explained in perfect English. “I’ve been really addicted to Superman recently because I saw the movie and I just like his story as a kid.”
    The comic book hero also struggled to be accepted and to fit in but didn’t let that keep him from making his mark.

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    But for Youssif today, fitting in is not has hard as it used to be. “Now, I make friends easily, and everyone is nice to me at my school. Some of them even treat me like a brother.”
    Nine years ago, he told me that the kindness of strangers exists, and he was right. The outpouring of support for Youssif by CNN viewers showed us that we needed to provide a way for our audiences to get involved in stories like this. This led to the creation of the Impact Your World initiative, which has helped raise funds, find volunteers and make an impact for those in need over the last 9 years.
    Today, Youssif continues to remind us of the importance of kindness. In a world where fear of “the other” is growing, where the building of barricades and rejection feeds directly into the narrative of terrorist organizations, he is a reminder of the transformative power of compassion.

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/27/health/youssif-burn-recovery-2016/index.html