A CARE project funded by the United States government trains community activators to raise awareness about topics such as early marriage, violence against women, and child protection. One of them is Souad Aboud, 20. She is a Syrian refugee who bears a severe visual impairment. “People with disabilities, like me, need to be represented. That is why I want to share my story,” says Souad.
When I was six, I lost sight in my left eye. Surgery would be the cure but I was too young for the type of operation I needed. So, the only treatment at the time was to keep me away from the streets, the sun, and dust.
When the war started the stress caused my sight to worsen. Every day I could see less. I tried to convince myself that I would recover and did not tell anyone. One day I fell into a hole and my father asked me what was happening. I started to cry and told him, that I could no longer see. From then on there was only darkness.
Losing my sight in the middle of a war shocked me to my core and was terrifying. My whole world shattered into little pieces.
I could hear the bombings but did not know what was happening. I was afraid that the bombs would hit us and that I would lose someone from my family. The scariest thing for me was the thought of what would happen if I was separated from my family. What would I do alone, not being able to see where to go and if it is safe? What if a bomb hits our house? Will my family be able to take me, or will I be left behind in darkness?
For many nights I could not sleep. I kept thinking about all the different terrible scenarios that could happen. Every day in this war felt like a whole year to me. When the security worsened, we fled Aleppo to the countryside. We stayed in a very crowded school. There were shared toilets and no privacy. The noise of strangers all around me was terrifying to me. When we could not handle it anymore we fled again to a safer area in Syria.
The hunger nearly killed us
This was the first time in my life that I experienced hunger. There was no food, and we had no money to buy anything. We lost everything when we fled. We wanted to stay safe, but that meant staying hungry.
My older brother found a job as a truck driver, and we all depended on him for a little income. We could not find any bread and we often did not have gas for the gas cooker we had to use as there was no electricity. As a truck driver, my brother traveled a lot between cities and sometimes was able to bring gas bottles back with him, allowing us to cook. We accepted being hungry because we were not the only family suffering like this.
However, one day my brother did not return from work. A friend told us that he had been shot when he accidentally ended up between two conflicting parties. We never retrieved his body.
That was when the hunger nearly killed us. We could not find enough food for three months and one time survived only on water for four days. It was horrible, and we decided to flee to Türkiye.
I was very excited. I imagined that all our suffering would end immediately and that we would see all the famous Turkish TV stars. I also thought that I would be able to go to school again. I was surprised to see a very different reality.
"Hope is exhausting when it is taken from you again and again,"says Souad.
We tried four times to cross the border. In the second attempt, someone took us in a car, and I thought he would drive us to Türkiye, but he dropped us off on a road on the Syrian side, telling us that there were mines left and right and we had to watch where we stepped. I was so scared that I could not breathe. I just stood there like a statue and my family had to force me to move, to take one step after the other. I thought I would die that day.
On the fourth attempt, we were forced to walk for three hours in the cold rain and sleep on the ground in a playground. It was so cold I could not stop shaking. A woman died on that playground that night. After that, we nearly gave up, but my mother cried so much, and we decided to try one more time.
When we finally arrived, we were so exhausted. At first, we lived together with sixteen other people. There was no privacy. We had food, but it was not the comfortable life I imagined.
A charity gave us hope and paid for the eye surgery that I had been waiting for so long. I was able to see again for five months, but I eventually became blind again. Hope is exhausting when it is taken from you again and again. I would need another surgery to be able to see again, which would cost around 7,000 US dollars. That it is too expensive for us.
Is the world ending?
The day before the earthquake on 6 February 2023 I had an accident. A car hit me. As a blind woman, it is difficult to maneuver the traffic here. I had a head injury and was not able to sleep that night. I was listening to YouTube when the building started shaking. I could hear the echoes of screaming, things falling to the ground and the air felt like it was being compressed. I was bouncing from wall to wall and did not know what was happening.
My neighbors started shouting my name and for me to get outside. There was no electricity, and the phones did not work. It felt like we were cut off from the world and we did not know what was happening. Was the world ending? I was too scared to go back inside, so I stayed outside with my neighbors in a stadium. We did not sleep for three days and just walked up and down to keep warm.
"I am a blind girl who survived a war, hunger, displacement, the loss of my home and my brother, and an earthquake. Now I connect voices and make them heard, that is a wonderful feeling,"Souad expressed.
Knowing their pain
A friend told me about CARE, and they asked me if I wanted to be a community activator. First, I participated in a women’s club and learnt about topics such as early marriage, bullying, child protection, and violence against women. It raised my own knowledge and made me stronger. I was encouraged to hold my own sessions. At first, I hesitated because I did not know if I had the skills to do this. But now I know that a blind girl can do this.
I can make a difference and my community comes to my sessions specifically, because they want to hear about my experiences with a disability and how I overcame the psychological impact of the trauma I went through. I am a blind girl who survived a war, hunger, displacement, the loss of my home and my brother, and an earthquake.
In my community, I prevented a case of early marriage and helped a family to get information on where to receive help in bullying cases. My community trusts me. I connect voices and make them heard, that is a wonderful feeling. For my future, I wish to be someone who leaves behind traces in other people’s lives. I want to help others to cope with their difficult lives because I know their pain.