We saved Elena’s sight

Elena blind Syrian refugee INARA Arwa Damon

Syrian refugee Elena was born with severe cataracts in her eyes. When INARA met her, she only had a few months left before she would have gone completely blind. Her mother, Hengal, had given up hope, and didn’t know who to turn to for help.

Elena's story

Midway through Hengal’s pregnancy in Syria, the city she lived in with her husband fell under siege. For 40 days, Hengal struggled to find food and water, resulting in an infection. Doctors believe this was the likely cause of Elena’s birth defects - which also include slight abnormalities to her fingers and toes.

Shortly after Elena was born, her father left the house one day and never returned. Hengal still does not know what happened to him.

Helpless and hopeless, Hengal had to take action. She decided to flee to Lebanon, to try and find a better life for her and her daughter. She used her daughter’s medical condition as an excuse to get permission to get out of each military checkpoint on the way out.

Once she was far away enough, she managed to get on a cramped bus to Lebanon. She never looked back.

When INARA met Elena

“Before we met you, Elena was in a very, very bad and difficult state,” said Hengal.

With only a few months left before she’d lose her eyesight, Hengal became hysterical. She did not know who to go to in order to get help, and was crippled by fears that Elena wouldn’t be able to get treated. She imagined the worst - that Elena would never be able to go to school, or learn to read or write, or ever see her own mother’s face again.

Eventually, she was put in touch with INARA. We connected Elena with an ophthalmic doctor at the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC), where two eye saving surgeries were performed. In total, the surgeries cost $9,418.

After the surgeries, Elena still suffered from Myopia. She needed glasses to correct her vision. We liaised with the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF), who paid for the glasses, and Hengal picked a pink pair for Elena.

Hengal and Elena at the airport on their way to Australia

Hengal and Elena at the airport on their way to Australia

Enabling Elena to see the light

“Elena couldn’t see. There was no light in front of her. Now she can see the light. She can see everything. There’s new hopes and ambitions for her, and a new life journey ahead of her.”

Before, Hengal said that Elena used to play by herself in a corner. Now, she’s full of life and energy - and constantly running around. Elena is still too young for school, but Hengal is determined that her daughter will get the best education and achieve everything she dreams of.

In April, Elena and Hengal were relocated to Australia, thanks to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The two are currently living in temporary accommodation while they await their new home. They are also learning English.