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Press Centre (5/2014)

Three blind Syrian siblings who listened to the drums of war, but are determined to hear sounds of peace

The impulsive smiles of Emane, her elder brother Abdülhamid and her elder sister Zahra as they pose inside the tent are unmissable. ©UNICEF/Turkey-2014/Yurtsever
ISLAHİYE, Gaziantep, May 2014 – Zahra, and her brother Abdülhamid and their sister Emane cannot see. They live in a tent with their mother and three siblings more in a tent in Gaziantep’s Islahiye Camp. The three siblings, aged 19, 17 and 13 fled Syria 15 months ago with their family from Idlib, now safe from the conflict that rages across the border in Syria.
Both Zahra and Abdülhamid have incurable blindness, but there is hope for Emane, who has partial vision. The 13-year-old can can partially distinguish colours, but white liquid in her left eye, means her vision will deteriorate as she gets older. The family has desperately looked for treatment in the camp to stop the worsening condition. Her case was referred by the camp clinic to the better equipped state hospital in Gaziantep. Unfortunately, doctors there said that they could do nothing for her. Disappointed with what they heard, the family has not lost all hope. The eldest of her siblings, Zahra is 19 years old followed by Abdülhamid, 17, Ahmed, 15, Emane, 13, Kemal, 8, and Hale, 6. Their father died a long time ago due to an incurable disease.

Before the conflict, Emane was happiest listening to the sound of rain. “I also like the sound of birds but I’m afraid of touching them,” she said. Unfortunately, the sounds she heard the most in her hometown recently were the sounds of tanks and bombs. She hasn’t heard explosions or gunfire for 15 months, but her mother says that her heart was about to stop when she heard the bombs again when they visited their aunt in Syria a short while ago. Now, Emane says she likes to hear the ringing of the school bell in the camp very much.

As soon as we enter the tents, we are surrounded by children. Immediately, the atmosphere changes from chaotic to calm — no doubt because we are accompanied by the well-known youth workers from the Child Friendly Space. We’re offered coffee, then plates of figs and cucumbers are passed around. The steadfast tradition of generous hospitality and insisting on welcoming guests is meticulously carried out despite their desperate circumstances.

Although Emane cannot go to school in the camp, she participates in the activities in the Child Friendly Space... Just like her peers, she eagerly joins activities like singing, dancing and crafts. Her main supporters and friends here are Turkish Red Crescent Youth Workers Ebru and Yağmur, who work in the UNICEF Child Friendly Space.

She describes her days in the camp as follows: “I get up whenever I want in the morning. We visit our neighbors. My best friend is Ruaya. We play games with her. I don’t like watching television very much — I enjoy it more when someone reads a book for me. I love jokes and adventure stories the most.”

Before we leave, we eat some fruits all together and promise to visit them again. Emane and her siblings have made it clear to us that physical disabilities are not unsolvable problems for individuals, no matter what their circumstances. There is no obstacle in life that cannot be overcome with the determination of the person and the support of the society, because “there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome in this life!”

Story and photos by Ayberk Yurtsever
UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org