Mouhanad Syrian refugee Arwa Damon INARA AUBMC

“Mouhanad was very young when he was burnt,” his father tells us. “Since the explosion he tries to avoid being around people because he is ashamed of his face. It’s ok when he’s with his brothers. He plays and runs around with them. But if someone he doesn’t know comes into the house, he will hide away.”

Mouhanad is very shy. We ask him what he wants to be when he’s older and he pauses, embarrassed to speak. Eventually he mutters “mechanic” to us and looks away, avoiding eye contact. It’s the same for every question we ask him. He dislikes the attention and tries to hide.

The explosion

Three years ago, when Mouhanad was just five, he was playing outside with his brothers. They heard the rumbling noise of a plane overhead. Mouhanad’s father heard the noise and felt fear grip his whole body. He looked out of the window of his home and saw his children running inside. Mouhanad was young and so was slower than his brothers.

The airstrike landed a few streets away and shrapnel flew across the sky, straight into a diesel tank that Mouhanad was right next to. Mouhanad’s father was at the window, watching as his son was covered in flames. He describes it as though everything were in slow motion.

He tried to rush to save his child but felt his legs trembling with every step with the fear that he would find his son dead. As soon as he managed to put out the flames on his child’s body he rushed him to the hospital. But Mouhanad had acute burns all over his face, hands and abdomen.

While his burns were healing, his father made the difficult decision to flee Syria. “We have a large family and after Mouhanad’s accident I just didn’t feel like we would be safe again. The fighting was getting worse and we were all scared for our lives. So we packed up a few of our belongings and came to Lebanon to seek safety.”

Life in Lebanon

The scars over his abdomen had healed by the time the family arrived in Lebanon. But the scars on his face made life incredibly difficult for Mouhanad. His right eye didn’t close properly, meaning often his eye was sore and painful. The scars on his face were also itchy, causing him to scratch at his face in his sleep.

In November, Mouhanad had a surgery at the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC) to release the tight scars that prevented him from closing his eye. Doctors did this by grafting skin from his scalp and moving it to his cheeks.

The future for Mouhanad

Mouhanad goes to school in Lebanon. His parents want him to get the best education he possibly can.

His father explains that in Syria he had a car dealership and his son has always grown up around cars - hence why he wants to be a mechanic. “We want the best for our son, but it’s hard for us to imagine what he can do when he’s in so much pain. After the surgery we’ll be able to imagine him leading a happy and healthy life.”