Avril Lavigne's cover of Knockin' on Heaven's Door has made more than $100,000 to help clean up unexploded grenades in Iraqi schools and give textbooks to the traumatized children who attend those schools.The song is the first single being released to radio stations this week from War Child Canada's Peace Songs CD.
Proceeds from the album are being used to fund Iraqi children's hospitals, education and mental-health programs.
Thanks to Lavigne's of-the-moment status, the single is expected to boost sales, which have been climbing steadily since it was released last month.
Eric Hoskins, executive producer of the album and president of War Child Canada, has already been to Iraq to see what was left of the organizations the charity has worked with over the years and how the first proceeds of the CD are being put to work.
"Every day in Baghdad, 25 people, mostly children, are being injured or killed by cluster bombs dropped by the coalition, Iraqi weapons left behind and dud missiles sitting in people's neighbourhoods," said Hoskins.
"We went to children's hospitals and saw a lot of kids who have lost an arm or a leg from something like that," he added.
The doctors told him horrifying stories about having to flee for their lives under the bombing only to return to find babies that had been left behind in incubators dead and rotting.
So far, money raised by War Child's CD has gone to a hospital in Karbala that is out of a $15 medicine used to kill a virus that, left untreated, is fatal.
There is an outbreak of the illness right now and hundreds are dying, he said.
Looting has left schools and hospitals with nothing. War Child is bringing in basic medical supplies for the doctors who have "been working in a vacuum for the past 12 years under the sanctions," Hoskins said.
The next phase of the Canadian charity's plan, slated to get under way in a month or two, will be to rebuild the city's schools and train teachers and parents to help kids deal with the anger over the wars they have lived through.
Hoskins was there in January with a group of Norwegian psychologists, leading researchers in the effects of war on children.
"They interviewed 200 young people aged five to 18, administered psychological tests and found that 40 per cent didn't even think life was worth living. And that was in January," Hoskins said.
At that time, there was a feeling in the country that war was inevitable and the kids were surrounded by talk of it in the media and at home.
"Those who had lived through the 1991 Gulf War started having nightmares reliving that time and the younger ones were hearing about it from their brothers and sisters and started developing anxiety," Hoskins said.
"The psychological damage that does is acute as well as chronic," he added.
The stories were enough to convince a glittering array of Canadian stars, from Celine Dion to Leonard Cohen and Lavigne to donate their time to help out.
Hoskins tracked Lavigne down on tour in Europe this winter and easily persuaded her to stop at a London studio that agreed to provide free recording time so she could lay down her own version of Bob Dylan's classic.
"She told me it was fitting because it was the first song she learned how to play on guitar when she was a kid," Hoskins said.
Lavigne has since been playing it at her concerts and promoting the War Child effort.
The idea for the album, a compilation of the best peace songs ever written, was originally dreamed up months ago by former MuchMusic boss Denise Donlon, who is now top brass at Sony Music Canada. When the U.S. moved on Iraq, she and Hoskins knew they had to make it happen.
Close to 10,400 copies of the double-disc recording have been sold in Canada and there are plans to release it in the United States.
Hoskins said 100 per cent of the money raised is being spent on helping war-affected kids.
"Even the record stores are waiving their cut. I had dinner with the head of Music World the other night and he handed me a cheque for all the sales so far and an advance on future sales. That was pretty cool."
Peace Songs is the first charity album organized by War Child Canada.
The British chapter of War Child put out its own CD to raise money for Iraq and the two groups shared tracks. The U.K. CD included Lavigne's song, while the Canadian picked Paul McCartney's Calico Skies and Beth Orton's Ooh Child.
War Child U.K. raised millions with its earlier effort, Help, put out after the genocide in Bosnia.