“People always ask me what’s wrong with me. I don’t want anyone to talk to me about my injuries,” Farah tells us in our first meeting with her. She hates this question. Recalling the day that she was caught in a barrel bomb causes her to tear up. She does whatever she can to hide her injuries when she walks down the street, but people still stare and she notices.
‘The anxiety that we as Syrians are so used to now…’
Just last year, Farah’s life changed forever. “It was at the start of Ramadan,” Farah’s mother tells us. “Farah and her sisters were playing in the yard in front of our house. I heard the noise of planes overhead and I felt that anxiety that we as Syrians are so used to now.”
As her mother ran outside to get her daughters to come inside, all she saw was a blinding light as a barrel bomb landed right there in their neighborhood. She was knocked over by the impact, but managed to escape unharmed.
However, she lost her youngest daughter who was instantly killed. Farah and her remaining sisters were all injured, but Farah’s injuries were the worst. She lost her arm below the elbow in the impact. She was also covered in shrapnel wounds and burns.
Crossing borders to find help
Her mother didn’t have time to take in everything that had just happened. All she knew was that she had to do whatever she could to save her daughters. She took them to the nearest field hospital, but was told that Farah’s injuries were far too complicated for them to treat. She remembers the hot tears that streamed down her face when she was told this, and how powerless she felt at that moment.
Not knowing what next to do, she decided that she should try and get her daughter to Turkey. Her husband remained with their other daughters in the field hospital, and she paid whatever money they had left to get her daughter across the border. Turkish doctors told her mother that they would have to amputate Farah’s foot, but she begged them not to. “Surely there must be a way to save her foot, I kept thinking.” Because her mother was so insistent, they didn’t amputate her foot.
After a considerable amount of time in the hospital in Turkey, Farah was discharged and returned back to Syria to be reunited with her sisters and father. It was an emotional time for them, and they slowly began to deal with the horrors of what they had been through.
Life for Farah
Despite getting treatment in Turkey, Farah still had many problems. She struggled to walk because the shrapnel wounds were so severe that they affected her joints, causing her significant pain. On top of this, her amputated arm regularly gets infections that make her really sick and bed-bound for weeks on end.
The psychological impact of this barrel bomb also takes its toll on Farah. “She was more active and used to smile at everyone. She loved meeting new people. Since that terrible day she can’t interact with people anymore. She’s trying her best to adapt to what has happened but it’s a constant struggle for her.”
Her father left Syria days after they had been reunited to begin to find organizations that might be able to help his daughter. “We always knew from the beginning of the war that we would have to leave eventually, but we just didn’t have the money. We kept putting it off. But after that day, when I lost my youngest daughter and saw all of my children hurt and in pain, I knew that we couldn’t wait any more.”
A few weeks later, and the family were in Lebanon, crammed into one small room in the south of Lebanon. “At least we found a roof over our heads,” her father says gratefully.
After months of visiting various different humanitarian organizations, Farah’s father was told by the Norwegian Refugee Council that he should speak with INARA. He called and informed one of our caseworkers about her condition.
She was brought in for a medical assessment with Dr Amir Ibrahim, one of the doctors we work closely with at the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC). His examination pulled up numerous different conditions that Farah would need treatment for.
She will firstly need a surgery on her right foot. Surgeons will take skin and fat cells from her left thigh and place them on her foot. After three months she will need another surgery to implement the bone. She will also need an operation on her left knee, because the muscle has been so badly damaged. This, as she grows, could cause severe problems with mobility, and also potentially restrict the growth of her leg. The same surgery will also be performed on her right hip which has very similar problems. She’ll also need a small piece of shrapnel to be removed from her left ear, and a further surgery on her amputated arm to prevent her repeatedly getting infections.
Hope for the future
Knowing that she will get treatment has really helped Farah’s mood. “I really hope that I can walk easier after these surgeries,” she tells us, smiling timidly. In the future she dreams of becoming a teacher.
At the moment she’s not at school, because the school is in the next town. She can’t walk very far because of her condition and her father cannot afford the transportation costs to get her to and from school every single day. However, she hopes that the treatment she’s getting through INARA will mean she can walk to school and get better educated.
As the family leave the INARA offices, Farah’s mother tells us how grateful she is for INARA and for everything that we are doing. “I want to say thank you for saving my lovely child. I hope everyone at INARA and everyone donates find all the good things in life.”
UNICEF contributed to Farah's treatment.