By Vincent Lyn
It has been precisely 18 months since I last saw Ibrahim on February 22, 2022. During that time, there have been significant changes in his life, some positive and others deeply saddening.
I had the chance to meet him again on July 18, 2023. Since my last encounter with Ibrahim, his mother, Nouha, aged 33, has remarried her high school sweetheart, Jemma, also 33. They now have a newborn baby born on July 19, 2023.
Jemma, a Sargent in the Syrian Army, was already married and had three children before marrying Nouha. His children include a 13-year-old son, the same age as Ibrahim, and two daughters, with the youngest being 5 years old and having a disability that prevents her from walking. In accordance with Islamic customs, it is acceptable for Jemma to have more than one wife. Interestingly, Ibrahim’s late father was friends with Jemma, and both wives were also friends.
However, due to Syrian law, Nouha had to give up all rights to custody of Ibrahim until he reaches the age of 14, at which point he can decide whom he wants to live with. Sadly, Ibrahim had to return to his Grandpa in Salimiyah, a man who has tormented and abused him since I first met Ibrahim in 2019. In the past month alone, Ibrahim’s Grandpa taught him how to smoke cigarettes and neglected to provide him with regular meals. As a result, Ibrahim’s physical condition has deteriorated, and at the age of 13, he appears to be the size of an 8-year-old due to malnutrition and severe vitamin deficiencies. Additionally, his mental health has been deeply affected, and he has become quiet and withdrawn.
During my visit, Ibrahim was asked with whom he would prefer to stay, his Grandpa or his mother, and he initially said both, seemingly out of fear and intimidation caused by his Grandpa’s cruelty. However, after spending some time in a safe and comforting environment, he changed his mind and expressed his desire to stay with his mother.
I’m grateful that I have never met Ibrahim’s Grandpa, as the mere thought of encountering such brutality would be difficult for me to control my temper. Nevertheless, I brought several gifts for both Ibrahim and his 7-year-old sister, Dalia, some of which were donated by my friends, while others I purchased myself. It brought joy to see them smile and laugh upon receiving the gifts. Jemma appears to be a kind and genuine person, and I sensed a positive connection with him.
However, Jemma’s responsibility now extends to supporting two families and a total of five children, including his daughter with a disability who will require significant medical care. Financially, this will be a considerable challenge, as Jemma, despite being in the Syrian Army for two years, does not receive government aid for his daughter’s medical needs.
During our time together, we shared a meal of chicken with seasoned rice, wheat, and French fries. Ibrahim ate only a few bites and claimed to be full, but I insisted that he finish the entire plate of food, promising him a special gift if he did so. Reminding him of the Great Famine in China, stories that I heard from my father when I was his Ibrahim’s age so I urged him to finish every grain of rice on his plate. Eventually, he did, and I rewarded him with a traditional Middle Eastern ring I had bought in Iraq — a silver ring with a large agate center stone and two small turquoise stones on each side. It fit on his middle finger, and he was told that as he grows, it will eventually fit on his little finger. He expressed gratitude, and we took a photo of our fists together, showcasing our rings.
After spending the day with Ibrahim and Dalia, we dropped them off at Jemma and Nouha’s home in Tleff, a small village outside of Hama. Nouha was eagerly waiting for them, and Ibrahim excitedly showed his mother the gifts he had received, including a soccer ball, something he had never had before. Their home was also severely affected by the recent earthquake that occurred on February 26th.
The suffering in Syria has been unimaginable, with a conflict now in its 13th year, a recent destructive earthquake, and an ongoing economic crisis marked by hyper-inflation. The average Syrian family struggles to have even one decent meal a day. The country’s population has reduced significantly since the pre-conflict era, with millions displaced, many of whom are children living in poverty. Many Syrians have become desensitized to their reality due to the ongoing atrocities committed on the civilian population, including children. The use of banned weapons by the Geneva Convention have been used indiscriminately on the civilian population, and other forms of violence have worsened the already dire situation.
The Syrian people have been enduring a “Revolution for Hunger,” as it appears that the country is being intentionally starved to death. The motives behind this remain unclear, but there are suspicions and speculations about who might be behind such actions.
IBRAHIM’S STORY— https://medium.com/@vincentlyn/ibrahims-story-a44760fa1a04
CEO & Founder of We Can Save Children
Deputy Ambassador of International Human Rights Commission (IHRC)
Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization
Economic & Social Council at United Nations (ECOSOC)
Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts