In October 2012, nine-year-old Esraa was sitting under a tree by her home in Syria, drinking tea and playing. Suddenly, family members heard her scream and cry. When they found her they discovered she had been shot in the stomach by a sniper. The bullet exited her back, striking her spine as it passed through her body. In the increasingly brutal war in Syria, civilians, including women and children, have become targets.
After being turned away from the public hospital, which was overwhelmed by injured patients, Esraa received emergency treatment from doctors working in a makeshift clinic. She was then brought across the border into northern Jordan, where doctors put an internal fixation (metal plate and screws) on her damaged vertebrae and removed part of her intestine. The doctors found that the bullet had damaged Esraa’s spinal cord, leaving her unable to move her legs.
One of Handicap International’s mobile teams in Jordan found Esraa and they took immediate action to help. Now, every week, she is visited by Maha, a Handicap International physiotherapist who is helping Esraa get back on her feet. The organization provided Esraa with crutches and orthoses to support her when she stands. While Esraa’s spinal cord injury means she’ll likely need to use assistive devices for the rest of her life, she will be able to walk again.
For now, during her physiotherapy sessions, she concentrates on just putting one foot in front of the other. The sessions are demanding and often leave her physically and emotionally exhausted. She is still in pain from her injuries, and this, along with the trauma she has experienced, means that she sometimes bursts into tears. But, with Maha’s help and words of encouragement, she keeps trying, determined to get through every session.
When asked what she misses most about her life in Syria, Esraa replies, "I miss the dog. And I want to play hide and seek and see my friends again." For now, she has to settle for playing card games with her relatives.
Esraa lives in a small rented apartment with her sister’s husband, his parents, and three other children. Despite being in Jordan, the conflict still feels very close—the Syrian border is only a few kilometers away—and the war continues to exact a heavy psychological toll on Esraa and her family.
“Every day we can hear bombing and shelling and gunshots,” says Esraa’s great aunt, who was also injured in Syria. “So many people have been killed. Everyone has lost someone—an uncle, an aunt, a mother. Our houses have been burned and destroyed. This war didn’t leave anything for us. Even our animals have been killed.”
The family is struggling to get by in Jordan due to the high cost of rent, water, and electricity. They talk about Syria wistfully, dreaming of going back to work on their smallholding, where they used to grow plenty of vegetables and water was not in such short supply.
It’s hard to say when it will be safe enough for the family to go home, or what kind of life they will find when they get there. For now, they are taking hope from Esraa’s determination to recover, and dreaming of a better future.