“I feel much older than I am in reality,”; Salsabil’s story of strong will

Overcoming the impact of conflict and social norms to make a better life for her daughter and herself

Tarek Jacob and Yasmine Saker
an adolescent girl in a classroom
16 April 2020

Daraa, Syria, 7 April 2020- “I’m not your average 16-year-old,” says Salsabil, recalling her story. “I feel much older than I am in reality, I never had an easy life,” she continues, indeed sounding like an adult.

Back in 2016, as violence escalated in her hometown Sheikh Mskein in Daraa, south Syria, Salsabil and her family were forced to flee. A few months later, while she was in school, attending Grade 7 classes with her friends, a life-changing decision was made on her behalf; she was to be married to her neighbour.

“I never thought I would be married at the age of 13, but I had to comply to my family’s decision,” recalls Salsabil. Shortly after she was married, Salsabil’s husband forced her to drop out of school. A few months later, she got pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl, Tasnim.

“I never thought I would be married at the age of 13, but I had to comply with my family’s decision”

Salsabil, 16, from Daraa, Syria

“It’s a huge responsibility to take care of a child, let alone doing that while you’re a child yourself,” continues Salsabil with wisdom beyond her young age.

Unfortunately, this was not the end of Salsabil’s troubles. In early 2018, her husband was killed in violence, leaving her and her daughter alone. Around the same time, her family had moved back to their home in Sheikh Mskein and she returned to live with them, this time with Tasnim on her arm.

Only a few months later, while at home preparing lunch for Tasnim, a mortar shell hit the kitchen, severely injuring Salsabil. As a result of shrapnel to her abdomen, Salsabil had to have her uterus and parts of her intestines removed. To this day, she has difficulties walking for long distances or standing for long hours.

a teacher writing on a blackboard in front of a girl in classroom

“I knew I had to become strong and independent to be able to provide Tasnim with a better life than I had, I don’t want her to suffer like I did,” says Tasnim who decided to sign up for the UNICEF-supported self-learning programme. The non-formal education programme allows out-of-school children who are unable to attend school due to violence and displacement to study at home or in community centres supported by caregivers or volunteers. The programme aims to eventually reintegrate these children into the formal education system. In Sheikh Mskein, the programme is implemented in a school on weekends.

 A few months after joining the programme and studying hard, Salsabil took a placement test and was enrolled in Grade 9.

“I love Arabic literature so much that I aspire to be a writer,” says Salsabil. “I like writing other people’s stories, but not mine,”.

Thanks to a generous contribution from the Dutch National Committee, more than 2,700 children enrolled in the self-learning programme in Daraa.