“I wish that one day Ayyoub will be a successful dentist,” his father tells us. When we ask Ayyoub what he’d like to be, he shows his teeth to us in one of the biggest grins we’ve ever seen in the INARA offices, and reaffirms exactly what his father said: “I want to be a dentist”.
Ayyoub is an energetic four year old, who was born a refugee in Lebanon. He and his family have lived here for the past five years. Their house was destroyed early on in the Syrian war. Ayyoub has never seen his homeland.
“I left Syria for many reasons,” his father explains. “We stayed for a while after our house was destroyed. But after my nephew was killed we knew we had to leave. We lost one member of our family. We couldn’t cope with losing any more.”
The family rent a small room on a busy highway in Lebanon. It was the cheapest place that they could find. The noise of car horns and speeding cars blare at them all day and all night. One night, Ayyoub felt hungry. The family struggle with money and sometimes have to skip meals. He begged his mother for something, anything that he could eat.
His mother placed a pot of boiling water on a small stove in their room. She placed the last two eggs they had in the house. But Ayyoub was really hungry and impatient. He ran towards the pot and tripped. The boiling water fell all over his abdomen.
Ayyoub was in agony as the burns blistered across his chest and stomach. The family panicked and took him to the nearest hospital. But the injury was so severe and the family were so poor that they couldn’t afford treatment. Only 75% of the medical costs were covered by an NGO for the next ten days in order to treat his acute burns.
For each of those ten days, the family pulled together to try to find the money to pay for the remainder of Ayyoub’s treatment. But as each day passed, they began to panic more and more. They sold everything they had. “The only thing I didn’t sell was my clothing,” the father explains. In the end, Ayyoub’s uncle helped to pay for the remaining days in the hospital.
Despite this treatment at the hospital, there are still burns on 40% of his body. Excess skin is growing on his abdomen, thighs, chin and on his elbow. His elbow is contracted because of this. “Sometimes it scares me that it will tear apart,” Ayyoub’s father says about the skin on the boy’s abdomen.
Doctors at the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC) informed us that Ayyoub will need three surgeries. The first surgery will get rid of the skin growth on his thighs, chin and elbow. He will need two further surgeries on his abdomen - because of the amount of skin there.
“He fully understands what happened to him,” his father says whilst his son bites on his mannouche. “We can easily see the emotional consequences of this injury. If we refuse him something or annoy him, he lifts up his top and tells us: ‘Don’t annoy me, I’m burnt’.”
As he tells us this story, his son looks up at his father and passes him a Lebanese flatbread he is eating, asking his father if he’d like some. His father wells up slightly, and kneels down next to his son. “All of this for you, Ayyoub. We want you to get better.”