As Umm Ahmed and her son logged out of the Travel Safety Information session given online, she could not help but wonder how her son’s life could have been very different had he known about the risks of mines and other Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) back when they were in Syria.
The conflict in Syria has displaced more than 10 million people, pushing 5.6 million to seek refuge in other countries. Among them were Umm Ahmed and her family, who first fled rural Aleppo to find safety elsewhere inside Syria. When the family of five finally found a place to settle, they were once again forced to flee when they almost lost their eldest child in a tragic accident.
It was a bleak afternoon when then-9-year-old Ahmed was out playing with his friends, on the day that would change his life forever. The rain had uncovered anti-personnel mines buried all over the war-ravaged area they had fled to. An ever-curious child, Ahmed picked up one of the shiny mines and it promptly exploded, leaving him unconscious and bleeding.
“I heard the sound and when I looked out of the window, I thought I had lost my child,” says Umm Ahmed. After rushing her son and his friends to the hospital, they learned that young Ahmed would lose an arm, but survive. “I was very grateful, but I knew that a long journey of recovery was ahead,” adds his mother.
After the explosion, Umm Ahmed and her husband decided to flee to Turkey to find a better life for their family and better medical care for their eldest son. “When we first arrived, we did not only have to check on Ahmed’s physical health, we needed to help prepare him mentally,” says Umm Ahmed.
As any normal child, Ahmed loved to play and explore, but he found himself incapable of doing the things other children around him were doing, and that took a toll on him. “At first, we could not enrol him in school. We feared he would be bullied,” says the mother. However, as soon as Ahmed started school, his schoolmates were very supportive and he made friends. “As a family, we gave Ahmed all the support he needed and he soon started enjoying his life again,” she adds.
Ahmed’s story is just one of hundreds that happen every year in Syria. Children are in danger of death or injury from mines, UXOs and Explosive Remnants of War (ERW). It is therefore essential that children in, or returning to, affected communities participate in Travel Safety Information sessions.
With funding from European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) and in partnership with the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), the Humanitarian Mine Action Association (iMFAD) is helping refugees live safer lives by conducting Travel Safety Information sessions with children and families in Turkey.
With the COVID-19 pandemic changing the ways in which we communicate, and to ensure the safety of the participants, these sessions are now held online. Umm Ahmed, Ahmed and her other two sons enrolled in one of our latest sessions. “Had Ahmed enrolled in these sessions prior to the accident, my son would have known what to do. They could have changed my son’s life,” says the mother.
While Umm Ahmed and her family have had to endure a lot, the mother of three is still very hopeful about what the future might hold for them. “I wish that our children will have a better life than the one we’ve had. I believe they will grow to be successful,” she says. The family continues to dream of a day when Syria will find peace and they can return to the country.
“We have left our home and belongings behind. There’s nothing like going back home.”