Photos: Syrian orphans adjust to life after war and loss

Mustafa and Doaa are now in Amman, Jordan, where they escaped the fighting in Syria. Photo by Sebastian Rich

AMMAN, Jordan — "I have shrapnel here and here in my leg I have shrapnel in my hand here and they took some shrapnel out of here," the little boy points to his elbow then his waist, back and pelvis.

"And it hurt a lot, my baba (father) was carrying me when the bomb fell from the sky. Baba threw me down. Baba died and my mama died, too, and my cousin died as well."

These are the matter-of-fact but chilling words of 5-year-old Mustafa, who was just 2 in the summer of 2014 in Aleppo, Syria. His whole world vanished in a second, forged in hell.

Mustafa is slowly coping after years of screaming with night terrors, and memories of his mother and father lying bloodied in the dust with their legs torn from their bodies. Not only coping with the traumatic loss of his parents but also, as best he can, with the damage to his small body.

Doaa, 4, hands her big brother Mustafa, 5, a flower while playing at the Homs League in Amman Jordan. Photo by Sebastian Rich

I met the against-all-odds cheerful and bubbly Mustafa with his grandmother and 4-year-old sister Doaa at the Homs League Abroad, an NGO in Amman, Jordan.

The brother and sister are not alone in their incomprehensible suffering. Thousands of children have been crippled, killed and orphaned from this six-year war in Syria; a war one year longer than World War II.

Mustafa's grandmother Shayma, (she asked me not to use her real name or use the name of her village as the locations are still in a possibly contentious area of Syria) who is 59 years old, took me through the tragic events of the summer's morning that decimated her family.

Mustafa's grandmother Fadilah describes what happened on the violent summer day. Photo by Sebastian Rich

"I had been on my way to see one of my grandchildren when my son Ibrahim, Mustafa's father, came running, screaming with Mustafa in his arms. 'They are coming, they are coming, the helicopters are coming! We must go.'

"I was near my other grandson's house, so I ran into his bedroom where he was asleep, grabbed him and ran outside. For an instant I saw my son with Mustafa and his wife, but as soon as I stepped outside there was a huge explosion with so much noise and flames, many buildings fell down.

"When the dust cleared I saw what was left of my son and his wife. They didn't have any legs and there was so much blood. I ran to them and held what was left of Ibrahim. I screamed for him to be alive, but he was gone. He was the love of my heart, he was only 20 years old. I lost my mind.

"An ambulance came to take the dead and the wounded to a hospital. They left my son and his wife at this hospital, but Mustafa was taken to another hospital. I just could not leave my son and his wife, I could not. I stayed to bury them."

Mustafa and Doaa show their grandmother their drawings. Photo by Sebastian Rich

The bomb that killed Mustafa and Doaa's parents and other members of their family, was thought to be a barrel bomb dropped from a helicopter. The barrel bomb is a crude but extremely effective killing device. Literally, a metal barrel filled with up to 1,000 kilos of high explosives with nuts and bolts, metal, glass, even chemicals.

Shayma continued, "In the beginning, Mustafa screamed and screamed at night for over a year. He was screaming because of the awful nightmares. He was reliving the bomb every night, every time he went to sleep he saw it. Nowadays, when Mustafa sees me crying with sadness he says 'don't worry jadda (grandmother), mama and baba are in heaven. I will look after you now, jadda.' Mustafa always tells me that when he dies he will see his baba and mama again in heaven."

Mustafa was initially taken to a hospital in Syria, then onto Turkey for major surgery. His injuries included shrapnel wounds to the head, lower back, pelvis, elbow and his left hand, which is still immobile. He now has one leg considerably shorter than the other making walking a considerable effort for the little chap. Mustafa is now having ongoing surgery and physiotherapy in Amman, Jordan.

Mustafa and Doaa are now getting help at the Homs league project in Amman, Jordan. Photo by Sebastian Rich

On arrival in Jordan, Mustafa was taken in by the Jordanian NGO Souriyat Across Borders. Souriyat operates a physical and psychological rehabilitation center in Jordan's capital Amman, which currently has a capacity to treat 30 in-patients in addition to regular out-patients. Souriyat also provides life skills coaching as part of their disability training program. The program is run by a young Syrian man in a wheelchair himself after being shot by a sniper in Syria.

Mustafa's sister Doaa, just 1 year old at the time, also was caught up in the carnage, leaving her with shrapnel in the chest and eye injuries that now need corrective surgery. Doaa, who is now 4, has no memory of the terrible events that robbed her of her young parents.

Mustafa and Doaa play happily — if not a little awkwardly with their injuries — just like any other children, full of energy and mischief, climbing all over their loving and patient grandmother.

Mustafa and Doaa play with party hats at the Homs league project. Photo by Sebastian Rich

Mustafa and Doaa kid around with their grandmother. Photo by Sebastian Rich

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