From Cannon Falls to Iraq, kids write of family and fears


“My name is Kati,” the letter begins. “I’m short, funny, cute, have lots of friends and now you’re one of them!”

Mahal Burr working on her book in the Gould Library

Mahal Burr working on her book in the Gould Library

Short and sweet, Kati’s is one of 1,200 letters written by  elementary, middle and high school students in the Cannon Falls school district, and sent to children in Iraq.

Selections from those letters are being published in a new book, “Dear Friend: Letters of Peace and Friendship,” compiled by Mahal Burr, a sophomore at Carleton College. The book also contains 15 letters written by Iraqi students replying to the letters from Cannon Falls. is a journalism web site covering stories about Northfield and Rice County, Minnesota — and the ways that this region connects to the state, country and world. It is created by students at Carleton College./td>

Burr’s initial inspiration for “Dear Friend” came from Dear Dr. King, a book published in 2000 by a Memphis schoolteacher who asked her students to write to Dr. Martin Luther King and talk about their hopes and fears about race.

The book deeply affected Burr and she felt inspired to do something similar, connecting children in the U.S. and Iraq.

Networking through Carleton College’s Academic Civic Engagement program, Burr found her way to Dina Fesler, the president and founder of Children’s Culture Connection (CCC), a Northfield non-profit group that helps American children connect with young people from other cultures.

By chance, a recent project started by CCC was an exchange of letters between students at schools in Northfield, MN, Washington D.C. and New York and students in Iraqi schools. The program gathered a lot of local andnational attention when Gunnar Swanson, an Iraq war veteran undertook a 1,000 mile walk from Dallas, Texas to Northfield, Minnesota.

Gunnar’s walk came to an end in Cannon Falls on September 11, 2009 where he walked the last part of the mile under a tunnel of hands formed by the children from Cannon Falls public schools. Mahal decided to collect the letters written by those students for her book.

“What really touched me about the letters was that when writing about their own hopes, dreams and aspirations, the students wrote about what they wanted for the Iraqi kids,” Burr said.

The Cannon Falls student letters are thus compiled under themes such as “Family,” “Fears,” “Aspirations,” What I Like to Do,” etc.

One Cannon Falls student wrote: “Hello there! My name is Rebecca or Becca if it’s easier for you to pronounce. I am from Cannon Falls, Minnesota and we took time out of out choir class in school today to write you these letters. I am not sure how old you are but I am currently 14. I just wanted to take the time to you that we over here in America are worries about you guys and truly care.”

Excerpts in the book from 15 letters written by Iraqi children in reply revealed how the war has affected their own dreams, as well as how childhood dreams in Iraq are quite similar to those in Cannon Falls.

“I want to see my country rescued from war and terror,” wrote Ari Kakawla Ali, a 13-year-old from Baghdad. “I hope to become a police officer in future to save my country from war and terror and do good deeds.”

“I hate to see killing in front of me, and terror,” wrote 14-year-old Nabaa Majid. “My dream is to study the subject which I like which is engineering.”

The book is available for sale here for $12.95, with all proceeds going to the CCC.

A reading of the book will be held in connection with the War Work:  Artists Engage Iraq and other Wars exhibit on Nov. 11 in the Gould Library at 7 p.m.

At the reading, students from Cannon Falls will read excerpts from the letters they wrote.