By Ayberk Yurtsever
ISLAHİYE, Gaziantep, May 2014 – Zahra, and her brother Abdülhamid and their sister Emane cannot see. They live in a tent with their widowed mother and three siblings Ahmed, Kemal and Hale in Islahiye refugee camp in Gaziantep, a city in southeast Turkey. The three blind children, aged 19, 17 and 13, fled their home in Idlib, Syria, with their family 15 months ago. They are now safe from the conflict that rages across the border.
Both Zahra and Abdülhamid have incurable blindness, but there is hope for Emane, who has partial vision. The 15-year-old can partially distinguish colours, but white liquid in her left eye means her vision will deteriorate as she gets older. The family has desperately looked for treatment in the camp to stop the worsening condition.
Her case was referred by the camp clinic to the better equipped state hospital in Gaziantep. Unfortunately, doctors there said that they could do nothing for her. Disappointed with what they heard, the family keep finding other things that bring them joy and peace.
Before the conflict, Emane was happiest listening to the sound of rain. “I also like the sound of birds but I’m afraid of touching them,” she said. Unfortunately, the sounds she heard the most in her hometown recently were the sounds of tanks and bombs. She hasn’t heard explosions or gunfire for 15 months, but her mother says that Emane became very anxious when she heard the bombs again while visiting their aunt in Syria a short while ago. Now, Emane says she really likes to hear the ringing of the school bell in the camp.
As soon as we enter the family tents, we are surrounded by children. Immediately, the atmosphere changes from chaotic to calm — no doubt because we are accompanied by the well-known youth workers from the UNICEF supported child-friendly space. We’re offered coffee and then plates of figs and cucumbers are passed around. The steadfast tradition of generous hospitality is meticulously carried out despite the family’s desperate circumstances.
Although Emane cannot go to school in the camp, she participates in the activities organized in the child-friendly space. Just like her peers, she eagerly joins in the singing, dancing and crafts. Her main supporters and friends here are Turkish Red Crescent youth workers who work in the child-friendly space.
She describes her days in the camp as follows: “I get up whenever I want in the morning. We visit our neighbours. My best friend is Ruaya. We play together. I don’t like watching television very much — I enjoy it more when someone reads a book for me. I love jokes and adventure stories the most.”
Before we leave, we all eat some fruits together and promise to visit them again. Emane and her siblings have proven that that physical disabilities are not unsolvable problems for individuals, no matter what their circumstances. There is no obstacle in life that cannot be overcome with the determination of the person and the support of the society.