Young Mahmoud: resolved to aim for the stars
Support from family and UNICEF’s social protection programme make a big difference in children’s lives
Aleppo city, Syria - “Passing Grade 9 national exams was a dream, and I did it,” said Mahmoud, 16, from Aleppo. Hoping to pass a school grade may sound like a regular wish by any child, but for Mahmoud, it was a goal he worked towards achieving in 2022.
“I went out to buy something, and the next thing I remember was waking up in total darkness,” he said. In 2014, Mahmoud was injured by a shrapnel of a shell that fell outside his home in Aleppo city, northwest Syria. Because of the incident, he lost his sight in his left eye and the ability to use his left hand and leg.
I went out to buy something, and the next thing I remember was waking up in total darkness
“Mahmoud couldn’t see for two weeks after the incident. When he woke up in the hospital, he kept on asking me to turn the lights on. I wasn’t able to tell him that he lost his sight temporarily in one eye and permanently in the other,” his father recounted.
The family was displaced several times after the incident. During the displacements, Mahmoud went through surgeries in his head, arm, and leg. In 2017, the family was able to return to their home. Mahmoud’s father, who had worked as a tailor but had lost his sewing machine and equipment during the conflict, opened a modest grocery shop to earn a living to support the family.
Years of crisis and displacement had depleted the family’s livelihoods. The cost for the care Mahmoud required, coupled with the country’s worsening economic situation, made it extremely challenging for Mahmoud’s family to get by.
In September 2021, Mahmoud’s family was approached by UNICEF-supported case managers. The family qualified for UNICEF’s Integrated Social Protection programme for children with disabilities. Through the programme, children benefit from cash assistance and case management services.
So far, Mahmoud’s family has received five of eight tranches of the cash assistance, each payment covering three months of the two-year programme. They have used money for private lessons to help Mahmoud catch up on missed learning as he only attended school intermittently during the conflict. The family also used part of the assistance to cover his medical care, medicine, and splints to support his injured limbs.
Hana, a dedicated case manager, was assigned to Mahmoud’s case. She regularly visits the family to ensure they receive the cash on time. She also makes sure Mahmoud has access to the services he needs. Hana relies on her network among non-government organizations and the private sector to help Mahmoud access the various services he needs. She arranged several referrals for Mahmoud, including for psychosocial support, to an ophthalmologist, and for splints. “I was thrilled when Mahmoud called to let me know that he’d passed Grade 9. It was huge for him!” she said.
Mahmoud’s father spares no effort when it comes to ensuring his little boy has everything he needs. He especially encourages Mahmoud to continue his education. “Don’t worry about expenses, just think of your education and future,” he said to Mahmoud when Mahmoud was concerned about paying for his education in the future. Mahmoud refuses to skip school despite a bumpy road and the lack of transportation means.
Everyone should know there’s beauty in overcoming life’s challenges. Did you know that there are plenty of great scientists and inventors with disabilities? They achieved great things, and so will I.
Mahmoud’s persistence has paid off. “You blew my mind - is what my math teacher told me when I exceeded his expectations. He was expecting the highest marks from two other students, but I got the higher mark!” said Mahmoud proudly. “There are about 50 students in my class, and I can compete with any of them,” he added.
“Everyone should know there’s beauty in overcoming life’s challenges. Did you know that there are plenty of great scientists and inventors with disabilities? They achieved great things, and so will I,” said Mahmoud. He believes that he is as capable as anyone else in succeeding, and it is all about the efforts one puts into achieving a goal. “People with disabilities and people without disabilities are the same. Whoever works harder, will achieve more,” added Mahmoud. He is currently in Grade 10 and dreams of becoming a neurologist - like the doctor who oversaw his case. Mahmoud has also managed to make new friends in secondary school. Every now and then his friends come over to take him to their football match. He plays as a goalkeeper, and it makes him feel included.
In 2022, more than 11,000 children with disabilities have benefitted from UNICEF’s Integrated Social Protection Programme, reaching children with severe disabilities with regular cash assistance and case management services in Syria. The activities were funded with contributions from EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO); the European Union and Government of Norway under the UN Joint Programme on Urban and Rural Resilience; Governments of Australia, Canada, Finland, Norway and Sweden; Luxembourg National Committee for UNICEF; Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation; and UNICEF’s Global Humanitarian Thematic Fund.