Ammar is a sweet six-year old boy who is absolutely in love with his little baby sister. When he comes into the INARA office, he sits and plays with her while his parents talk to us about their son’s medical condition and the horrible way in which he was injured. He doesn’t take his eyes off her the whole time; he is mesmerized by her. Throughout the interview he keeps making her giggle.
Ten months ago, the family lived in a city in Syria that was under siege. Life was hard for them. The war surrounded and suffocated them. They stayed inside their home, fearing for their lives every time they had to go outside to get essential itemslike food.
One day, an airstrike landed close to their house. Like many old Arabic houses in Syria, they had a fireplace, connected to a chimney. Some of the children in the family were gathered around it at the time of the strike, trying to keep warm. The impact of the rocket caused the fireplace to explode.
Ammar’s cousin who was sat next to him was instantly killed, but Ammar survived the explosion, although with terrible burns to his face. The family recovered his cousin’s body and grabbed Ammar. Once out of the house their house collapsed from the strain of the explosion.
In just a few minutes they had lost everything: a young child, their home, their belongings. But the family had no time to contemplate this. They had to stay strong and get Ammar medical attention fast. The family rushed to a hospital that was three kilometers from where the strike happened. But upon arrival, they discovered that no one was available to treat Ammar. The doctors apologized - but this was a city under siege. They were overwhelmed.
The family then had no other option to travel 170 kilometers to the next nearest hospital. But this time they arrived and found that it had been destroyed recently in an airstrike. The war in Syria has seen many hospitals destroyed, and access to basic medical treatment is scarce in the country. The family knew they had to get help elsewhere, and so they crossed the border into Lebanon.
“He is scared of flames”
The burns on his face mean that the young boy struggles to close his mouth. There is a contraction on both his upper and lower lips, as well as on his right ear. It makes simple tasks that we take for granted difficult - including speaking and eating.
The father tells us that after the accident, Ammar became scared of anything to do with fire - even matches. “He is scared of flames. Things have got better gradually, but it’s taken him a long time to understand that what happened is an accident. It doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen again.”
The family of eight live in a construction site now. It’s all that they can afford. They have one room to share, with a small kitchen and a bathroom. The apartment lacks basic infrastructure and hasn’t been finished yet. It gets terribly cold in the winter and excruciatingly hot in the summer. We are trying to help them by referring to contacts within our network who may be able to provide them with better housing.
“We know it’s not the best for the children,” his father tells us, “but it’s all that we could find.”
Changing Ammar’s narrative
When we meet Ammar, we take him to see the doctors we work closely with at the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC). There we are informed that Ammar will need a scar revision surgery to ensure he can eat, speak and move his mouth properly. They will also perform a surgery on his right ear - to ease the contraction there.
The medical treatment that Ammar is getting will hopefully ensure he can lead a happier and healthier life. Despite everything that he has been through, he is one of the smiliest and happiest children we have ever seen at INARA.
His father is supportive of his young son. When we ask him what he hopes for Ammar’s future, he tells us how important it is that he goes to school and gets educated. “He can do anything he loves, but it’s essential that he continues his education. That’s what’s most important to me.”
Throughout the interview with his parents, Ammar whispers things to his baby sister and she laughs hysterically. We ask him what he loves to do when he’s at home. “I like to play with my brothers,” he tells us excitedly. “But my favorite is teaching my little sister how to wrestle.”