ACORN has been working within Northern Iraq since 1993, setting up a variety of services for children with physical and intellectual disabilities, as well as educating the community about disability awareness.


ACORN has implemented long-term development initiatives and maintained an unbroken presence of international staff in Northern Iraq since 1993. Our aim is to continue partnering with local authorities in Iraq for the development of health and educational services.

At the request of the Kurdish health and education authorities, ACORN organization took the lead in pioneering a variety of new services for disabled children.


Medical and Rehabilitation Services for Children with Disabilities.

ACORN Medical Board

The formation of a Kurdish ‘Medical Board’ to advise ACORN was the foundational step in the development of sustainable services for disabled children.  Assessments, registration and simple treatments for disabled children were started at the Sulaimany Paediatric Hospital in 1993. Simultaneously a referral system covering all provincial health centres was established.

In 1993, Individuell Manniskohjalp (IM) and ACORN discussed plans to serve disabled children across Iraqi Kurdistan. Since ACORN was setting up in Sulaimany, Dr Helena of Save Children Fund - Sweden, chose to establish similar services in Erbil. In 1994, Middle East Development Services (MEDS) also started work with disabled children and widows in Erbil Governorate.

Sulaimany Children’s Rehabilitation Centre (CRC)

ACORN prepared the Children’s Rehabilitation Centre (CRC) at Chwarbakh, Sulaimany in 1994. By 2010 there were over 22,000 individual medical record files for children who have been diagnosed and received treatment at the CRC.

Main Services developed:

Diagnostic Assessment

Surgical Consultations

Physiotherapy Treatment

Orthopaedic aids and appliances

Child Psychology and Social Work

Dohuk Children’s Rehabilitation Centre (DCRC)

ACORN commenced physiotherapy training for medical assistants and nurses for Dohuk Department of Health (DOH) in 1998. With funding from the British Government, ACORN built the DCRC. From Middle East Development Services (MEDS), an Occupational Therapist was seconded to ACORN for training Kurdish therapists. After 5 years of financial support and international staff supervision, DCRC was handed over to DOH in 2003. At that point, over 7000 disabled children had been registered.

Kirkuk and Mosul Children’s Rehabilitation Units (KCRU and MCRU)

In June 2003, ACORN began work with the Mosul & Kirkuk Health Authorities to design appropriate services and train specialised staff for new Children's Rehabilitation Units (CRUs). Medical assistants received a one-year theoretical and practical training to work as physiotherapists and others were trained in production of splints & braces. Staff from Dohuk CRC with ACORN support, provided supervision for Mosul CRU until late 2004 when it closed due to insecurity. ACORN continued to support disabled children’s services in Kirkuk until 2009.

Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR)

During 2003 ACORN prepared and trained workers for a pilot project in Community-Based Rehabilitation (CBR) to be implemented in Peramagrun Collective Township, Sulaimanya Governorate. For this purpose, ACORN translated and printed 200 sets of the WHO Community-Based Rehabilitation manuals. This CBR project awaits the arrival of two international health workers (Physiotherapists / Community Nurses).

Satellite Physiotherapy Units (SPU’s)

Since 1998 ACORN has been setting up SPUs in cooperation with the DOH in Sulaimany. These are located in Ranya, Qaladiza, Chwarqurna, Peramagrun, Halabja, Penjween, Zimnako, Kalar and Chamchamal. This service for disabled children in rural areas is supervised by the SCRC.

Orthopaedic Workshops and Mobility Equipment

Orthopaedic Technology workshops were set up in Sulaimany (1997), Dohuk (2000), Kirkuk (2003) and Mosul (2003) for production of children’s braces and mobility equipment. Materials and equipment were supplied by ACORN to run these workshops. In 2004 ACORN, with funds from CORDAID, imported 160 strong wheelchairs and 100 prs pairs of elbow crutches for Sulaimany, Erbil, Dohuk and Kirkuk.

Physiotherapy Education

Physiotherapy Diploma course

In 1994 ACORN spoke to the Ministry of Health in Erbil regarding the need for physiotherapy education to be available in Iraqi Kurdistan. At that time only one physiotherapy diploma course existed in Iraq (in Baghdad). In 1997 ACORN initiated the starting of a 2-year Physiotherapy Diploma for Kurdish students, in partnership with the Kurdish Regional Government. This diploma continues to run in the Technical Institutes of Sulaimany and Erbil.

Orthopaedic Technology Training

Training of Orthopaedic Technicians in paediatric orthotic skills commenced in 1998 and continued through to 2005 in the Sulaimany and Dohuk Children’s Rehabilitation Centres.

English for Specific Purposes

From 1994 until 2004 ACORN provided English lessons for physiotherapist and nurses at the CRC and to students at the Institute of Technology (Physiotherapy Department). This enabled them to access information from PT textbooks, journals and to interact directly with visiting international professionals.

Continuing Education for Physiotherapists

ACORN international physiotherapists have been providing seminars and training courses to national therapists since 1993.

Physiotherapy Bachelor Degree

From 2003 ACORN began lobbying Kurdish medical doctors and government authorities regarding the need for more highly educated physiotherapists. Our report titled “Road to Recovery” was written in order to propose a detailed outline for a Bachelor degree curriculum. We have encouraged senior Kurdish physiotherapists to further promote the profession of physiotherapy by organizing conferences, in-service teaching seminars and starting a Physiotherapy Association.


In 1997 ACORN commenced work with the Sulaimany Ministry of Education (MOE). Negotiations were made to have physically disabled children accepted into their local schools. Previously children using wheelchairs or crutches were often not welcomed or provided for. To make access to many schools easier for the disabled children, ACORN made ramps and changed WCs.

Disability Awareness

Parent Information

Seven leaflets explaining about childhood disabilities were written for distribution to parents and health workers. These leaflets were printed in Kurdish and Arabic and include information on where to go to receive advice about what services are available.

Child-to-Child Programme in Sulaimany City

Seminars for Primary School Directors were organized to explain the specific needs of disabled children and how to help them be included in their schools. Selected teachers were trained in how to use stories and games to enable normal children to better understand and welcome children with disabilities.

During 1998-2003, this programme was run in 124 primary schools in Sulaimany. “Just like me and you” programme was also carried out in 25 primary schools and 25 secondary schools. Sections of the programme have now been included in the curriculum for training Primary School Teachers.

Child-to-Child Programme in Halabja

In August 2006 ACORN ran a 10-day training course for 25 teachers in Halabja. When school started in October the Child-to-Child Programme was implemented in 20 primary schools and kindergartens.

Poster Campaign

In 2002 a large-size poster to promote the rights of disabled children was produced by ACORN and distributed to public offices and schools in Dohuk, Erbil, Sulaimany and Kirkuk.

Festivals for International Disabled Children’s and Children’s Rights Day

Sponsorship for Education by ‘Liliane Fonds’

In 2003 ACORN was asked by Liliane Fonds to oversee the sponsorship of disabled young people. These funds enable them to continue their studies at school and college. As of 2010, 24 children and teenagers are being helped.   

Training for Teachers of Children with Learning Difficulties

In mid-2004 ACORN commenced a Special Education Pilot Project, in partnership with Sulaimany Ministry of Education. After 7 years of working to get physically disabled children accepted into schools, this was our first attempt to address the educational needs of children with intellectual disabilities. For this new work, many teachers were interviewed and 6 selected for on-the-job training in Special Education (SE).

School Inclusion (for children with intellectual disabilities)

By 2007 this programme had expanded to 5 primary schools.  There were 9 trained SE teachers assisting 27 children in Class 1, 2 and 3.

Early Intervention

Three of these schools ran weekly playgroups and a home visiting programme for families with disabled children under 6 years old. Four teachers were trained as ‘Family Guides’ who gave developmental and learning support to 24 children.

Training Courses for SE teachers

ACORN provided training from international Special Education teachers in autumn 2004 (on-the-job training in Sulaimany), in November 2005 (2 weeks in Amman, Jordan) and in December 2006 (2 weeks in Sulaimany).

Parent Support Groups

ACORN contacted the parents of children with Down Syndrome asking them to attend several meetings to discuss issues relating to this disorder. Such groups encouraged family members and enabled them to care for their disabled child in a positive way.

Special Education Programme Supervision

In 2005 ACORN encouraged the government to establish a ‘Department for Special Education’ to oversee the educational needs of disabled children. For Sulaimany and Erbil ACORN recommended SE supervisors who were well-motivated & had shown leadership in the SE Pilot Project.  ACORN provided two cars to ensure smooth running of the SE programme. This reliable transportation ensured that the SE supervisors could make frequent visits to train the SE teachers and to oversee the Halabja Disability Awareness project in 20 primary schools.


In 1998 a United Nations official approached ACORN asking if we could undertake an income generation project among the many ‘Anfal’ widows in Chamchamal. During interviews with the widows, many wanted safe work and said they had skills in making mud-bricks.  A small brick factory was built and at peak operation, 84 widows were employed. In 2004, a Dutch brick factory expert advised us to close this project because economic conditions had improved for the widows and if the factory was to be profitable for the widows, the kilns would have needed significant renovation and new equipment.


Since 1997 ACORN has been producing a range of books, manuals, leaflets and reports in Kurdish language (Sorani Dialect) relating to Disability Awareness, Physiotherapy, Parent Education and Research.

ACORN is a registered Dutch foundation (reg. no. 41213058)