Suhaib’s new life

How a young man’s determination overcame disability, conflict and displacement

Sandra Awad and Lina Alqassab
a young man
15 July 2020

Rural Damascus, Syria, 15 July 2020 - Just like most young people across Syria, Suhaib, 20, used to lead a peaceful life before the conflict erupted over nine years ago. Suhaib lived in the same rural home where he was born, in the village of Sarrin in the governorate of Aleppo, with loving parents and five siblings. The family owned a little grocery store and a small piece of land, generating just enough for their simple lives.

“Our only worry back then was Suhaib,” says Kasem, Suhaib’s father, referring to his son’s congenital hearing loss.

“Doctors in our village told us that he had nerve damage in his ears and that there was nothing we could do,” recalls Kasem who could not afford to take his son elsewhere for another medical opinion.

two young guys sewing

While Kasem wanted to register Suhaib in school, the village school was unable to support children with disability, forcing him to stay at home.

Almost five years ago, fighting escalated in Suhaib’s village, eventually forcing the family to flee.

“We put up with the deteriorating situation for two years until we decided to sell everything and pay smugglers to get us out,” explains Kasem.

After over six months spent on the move, the family finally settled in an unfinished apartment in Jaramana, rural Damascus. The apartment had no windows or doors, but it was all they could afford while Kasem started to hunt for jobs.

“I tried every job from wall-painting to cleaning, to moving, and yet we often slept on empty stomachs,” he recalls.

Despite everything he was going through, Kasem never stopped thinking about his eldest, Suhaib.

“I felt that being in the city might be a renewed glimpse of hope for Suhaib,” recalls Kasem who couldn’t wait to take Suhaib to a doctor, where he found out that his son would be able to hear with the help of hearing aids.

a man instructing a young guy on a sewing machine

With support from a community volunteer, Kasem managed to collect the high cost of the hearing aid for Suhaib through a crowd-funding campaign.

A few months later, the family heard about a UNICEF-supported centre in the area. Offering 17 different types of courses, including languages, life skills and vocational trainings such as sewing, the centre supports youth to reach their full potential in life, despite everything they have been through, thanks to a generous contribution from Germany. At the centre, young people also take part in social initiatives to pay back to their community.

“The sewing course was perfect for Suhaib. He had always loved sewing and would watch his mother as she worked on her sewing machine back home and would try to mimic her,” explains Kasem.

As it turned out, the course wasn’t only an opportunity for Suhaib to pursue his passion but also his first outlet to a social life outside the walls of his home.

“Every day he comes back from the course full of life, having learned many new things to tell us about,” continues Kasem.

"Suhaib is a brilliant student,” says Khaldoun, Suhaib’s sewing trainer on the UNICEF-supported course.

“He is very focused and a fast learner. I’m truly proud of him!” he continues.

After excelling in the sewing course, Suhaib took part in several UNICEF-supported youth-led initiatives including knitting curtains for a destroyed kindergarten that was under rehabilitation and, making facemasks to support the response to COVID-19.

Recently, the UNICEF-supported centre connected Suhaib to a local sewing factory where he started a paid job.

“His job now helps us put bread on the table, especially that I haven’t been able to work much with COVID-19 restrictions,” explains Kasem.

Suhaib still has a mountain to climb when it comes to speech, but since he started hearing and pursuing his passion, “I’m happy” is a statement made frequently, as his eyes sparkle with hope and determination.