From Iraq to Sofia with hope

The story of Khoder is sad, but still there is а spark in his eyes

Stanislava Stambolieva
Историята на Кходър е тъжна, но в очите му все още има искра
Caritas Sofia/2017
10 January 2019

The story of Khoder is sad and sombre, the way his eyes looked when he arrived in the refugee centre in Ovcha kupel together with his aunt Sahira. A couple of months later he smiled for the first time since a long time ago. One of the reasons for that is the project ‘We Play and Learn' by Caritas, supported by UNICEF.

Khoder is only 6 years old but he has already lost what is most precious for every child: his family and home. His father disowned him when he was two, and his mother didn't dare oppose that decision, out of fear for her other children. The boy grew up with people who were strangers to him. His closest caregiver was his aunt Sahira. Despite her efforts, over time he became more and more introvert and reluctant to talk to anyone. To save herself and Khoder from the dangers arising because of the hostile attitudes towards the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq, Sahira chose the difficult path of a refugee. 

For weeks Sahira and Khoder roamed hungry, hiding in the woods in Turkey and Bulgaria, before finding their place in the refugee centre in Sofia's Ovcha kupel district. Although they found a safe environment and support, Khoder was unable to cope with the shock of everything he had been through and the fear from the unknown.

At night, he would have nightmares and fainting fits, which were hard for the child to recover from. Khoder experienced difficulties adapting to the activities. At the beginning, he was aggressive and showed no interest in learning. The other children avoided him and didn't want him in their games.

‘This situation turned out to be a huge challenge,’ Martina Raychinova, coordinator of the ‘We Play and Learn' project, says, adding: ‘That is why we took him to the Blagoveshtenie (meaning Annunciation) Centre for Social Rehabilitation and Reintegration. They told us there that Khoder was falling behind in his development due to a severe psychological trauma. Knowing this, we were now ready to start over.’

Khoder's attendance at the centre made his nightmares and fainting fits less frequent. His rehabilitation and different kind of treatment, as well as seeing a speech therapist, helped overcome the child's aggression. In the meantime, the team of ‘We Play and Learn' gradually integrated him in the group and he started taking part in the games and lessons at his own will.

"Today, four months later, Khoder already has friends. Khoder and Sahira still have a long way to go, whether in Bulgaria or elsewhere. ‘But I am hopeful,’ Martina is positive, ‘because in Khoder's beautiful green eyes I have noticed the sparkle of carefree childhood, which defeats even fear and distress.’

*This is based on true story, names and images are changed to protect children’s privacy.  


Деца бежанци и мигранти учат и играят в подкрепен от УНИЦЕФ център
Caritas Sofia/2017