Overcoming injury and displacement; Shaher’s pure heart

Explosive hazards threaten the lives of children and families in war-ravaged areas across Syria

Antwan Chnkdji
a boy making a heart gesture with his hands
04 April 2021

Aleppo, Syria, 4 April 2021 – “I was playing with my friends in a destroyed house when something exploded,” says Shaher, 10, recalling the day a war remnant exploded back in 2018 and injured him and his friends.

Throughout years of conflict, and after their house was destroyed, Shaher and his family were forced to flee violence several times, finally settling in the war-ravaged Hanano neighbourhood of Aleppo.

On the day of the incident, Shaher and his friends were playing in the street when they saw a small fire in one of the destroyed buildings. Like any curious child, they went in to explore, not knowing what was waiting for them.

“Someone was apparently burning trash in the abandoned building, unaware that a war remnant was in the pile, and caused it to explode,” explains Shaher.

After the explosion, Shaher tried to run but only managed to take a few steps before he collapsed on the ground; shrapnel had punctured his kidney and lung and settled just next to his heart until this day.

Shaher’s mother heard the explosion and rushed him to the hospital where he required immediate surgery.

a group of boys
Shaher,10, with the friends he met at the UNICEF-supported center in Hanano neighborhood, Aleppo.

“The doctors told me that a couple more minutes and Shaher would’ve died had we not made it to the hospital,” says Nisreen, Shaher’s mother.

While Shaher’s friends who were injured were able to walk out of the hospital with minor injuries, Shaher had to stay in the ICU for two weeks, followed by a month at the hospital.

“I was in excruciating pain and felt so lonely,” he recalls.

Shaher finally managed to return home, but with a long list of medication and several more surgeries scheduled in the near future. The injury severely affected his physical activity, making him unable to do any task that would exert pressure on his heart. When he returned to school, he couldn’t play and run with his classmates during recess like he used to. The injury also severely impacted his mental wellbeing. He became isolated and quiet, with low self-esteem and a fear of loud sounds.

boys skipping in a classroom
Shaher,10, at the UNICEF-supported center playing games with his friends.

“I was being bullied daily, and I just couldn’t take it anymore, so I quit school,” he explains.

Towards the end of last year, Shaher joined a UNICEF-supported centre in Hanano neighborhood near his house, where a case manager was assigned to work with him to help him cope with his situation. At the center, Shaher started attending psychosocial support sessions that helped him regain his confidence and open-up. He also met new friends who encouraged him to continue his education and enroll in the same school they go to.

“Even though I have to talk for over half an hour to my new school, I never skip a day, even when it’s raining,” explains Shaher with a smile.

“I love being there and being surrounded by my new friends from the centre,” he adds.

It is estimated that half of the population in Syria live at risk of explosive hazards due to 10 years of conflict. Since the beginning of 2020, and thanks to generous contributions from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), Canada, Belgium, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the Office of U.S Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), Germany, Japan and the Syria Humanitarian Fund (SHF), UNICEF has reached over 1 million children and caregivers with lifesaving mine risk education.