Sham al-Akhras, 10, has only known war since the Syrian civil war started in March 2011, when she was an infant. If the brutal conflict is physically and emotionally distressing for regular Syrians, it is all the more so for al-Akhras, who has to live with her disability under the harsh conditions of a refugee camp in northern Syria’s Idlib.
Al-Akhras is unable to speak and can barely walk. Her father, Maher, told VOA that lack of access to medical facilities in Idlib’s war zone has prevented him from even diagnosing her condition, let alone getting proper treatment.
But despite the great barriers, al-Akhras has turned into a strong little girl, determined to fully live her childhood moments of carefree play and uncontrollable giggles.
“She is an independent and a brave little soul,” Maher said. “Sham does not allow us to help her in her daily life, like helping her stand up, put on her clothes or eat. She likes to do things by herself.”
Al-Akhras and her parents were displaced from Aleppo when the war escalated between the Syrian regime and rebels in 2012. They are settled in a refugee camp in Harem town near the Turkish border, where al-Akhras is enrolled in the first grade at the camp school.
Despite a lack of special accommodations for her at the school building, she insists on going there to learn the Arabic alphabet and work on coloring, shapes and other educational activities.
“The displacement was harsh on Sham. We left Aleppo because of the violence that took over our city. We lost our house in an airstrike by the regime. We are facing financial hardships; and adding to all this is the absence of professional medical aid and treatment because of the war that has made it harder for us to find good care for our daughter,” al-Akhras’ father said.
With no real end in sight to the war in Syria, al-Akhras is only one among thousands of disabled Syrians who have to carry the heavy burden of the conflict, according to rights organizations and experts following the plight of disabled Syrians.