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Souad’s story: “I am a blind girl who survived a war”

Souad Aboud, 20, in Gaziantep City, Türkiye. Souad is a community organizer, trained by CARE. She is a blind refugee from Aleppo, Syria. Photo: Tarek Satea/CARE

Souad Aboud, 20, in Gaziantep City, Türkiye. Souad is a community organizer, trained by CARE. She is a blind refugee from Aleppo, Syria. Photo: Tarek Satea/CARE

When I was six, I lost sight on my left eye.

The only treatment was to keep me away from the streets, the sun, and dust. Then when I was older, I could have surgery. But I was too young to survive the surgery at that time. So, I waited.

We had a stable life before the war. My parents had a good income. I can remember a beautiful fountain I used to drink from in the old city. Now all of that is gone.

The war

Aleppo after the 2016 bombing began. Photo: Ahmad Makiya/CARE-Shafak

When the war started the stress caused my sight to worsen. Every day I could see less. I tried to convince myself that I would recover and did not tell anyone.

One day I fell into a hole and my father asked me what was happening. I started to cry and told him, that I could no longer see.

From then on there was only darkness.

I could hear the bombings but did not know what was happening. I was afraid that the bombs would hit us and that I would lose someone from my family.

The scariest thing for me was the thought of what will happen if I am separated from my family? What should I do alone, not being able to see where to go, and if it is safe?

What if a bomb hits our house, will my family be able to take me, or will I be left behind in darkness?

Many nights I could not sleep, because I was thinking of different scenarios that could happen.

Every day in this war felt like a whole year to me.

When the security worsened, we fled Aleppo to the countryside. We stayed in a very crowded school. There were shared toilets and no privacy. The noise of strangers all around me was terrifying to me. When we could not handle it anymore, we fled again to a safer area in Syria.


An IDP camp in the northern countryside of Idlib, January, 2020. Photo: Chandra Prasad/CARE.

This was the first time in my life that I experienced hunger.

There was no food, and we had no money to buy anything. We wanted to stay safe, but that meant staying hungry.

My older brother found a job as a truck driver, and we all depended on him for the little income. We could not find any bread and we often did not have gas for the gas cooker we had to use, as there was no electricity.

As a truck driver, my brother travelled a lot between cities and sometimes was able to bring gas bottles back with him. Then we could cook.

We accepted being hungry, because we were not the only family suffering like this.

Then, one day, my brother did not return from work.

A friend told us — he was shot when he accidentally ended up between two conflicting parties.

We never retrieved his body. That was when the hunger nearly killed us. We could not find enough food for three months and one time only survived on water for four days. It was horrible, and we decided to flee to Türkiye.

Escaping to Türkiye

An IDP camp in Northern Syria after a snowstorm hit in January, 2022. Photo: Tarek Satea

I imagined that all our suffering would end immediately, and that we would see all the famous Turkish TV stars. I also thought that I would be able to go to school again.

We tried four times to cross the border. The second time someone took us in a car, and I thought he would drive us to Türkiye, but he dropped us off on a road on the Syrian side, telling us that there were mines left and right, and so we had to watch where we stepped.

I was so scared I couldn’t breathe. I just stood there like a statue, and my family had to force me to move, to take one step after the other.

I thought I would die that day.

The fourth time we were forced to walk three hours in the cold rain and sleep on the ground on a playground. It was so cold, I could not stop shaking. A woman died on that playground that night.

After that, we nearly gave up, but my mother cried so much, and we said we would try one more time.

When we finally arrived, we were so exhausted.

At first, we lived together with sixteen other people. There was no privacy. We had food, but it was not the comfortable life I imagined.

A charity gave us hope and paid for my eye surgery that I had been waiting for for so long. I was able to see again for five months, then I was blind again.

Hope is exhausting when it is taken from you again and again.

I would need another surgery to be able to see again, which would cost around $7,000 U.S. dollars.

That is too expensive for us.

The earthquakes

Shafak, A CARE partner participated in the rescue and removal of rubble operation in Aleppo, Syria due to the destruction caused by the Türkiye-Syria Earthquake of February 2023. Photo: Shafak

The day before the earthquake, I had an accident. A car hit me. I had a head injury and was not able to sleep that night.

I was listening to YouTube when the building started shaking. I could hear the echoes of screaming, things falling to the ground and the air felt like it was being compressed. I was bouncing from wall to wall and did not know what was happening.

My neighbors started shouting my name and for me to get outside. There was no electricity, and the phones did not work. It felt like we were cut off from the world, and we did not know what was happening. Was the world ending?

I was too scared to go back inside, so I stayed outside with my neighbors in a stadium. We did not sleep for three days and just walked up and down to keep warm.

Knowing their pain

Photo: Tarek Satea/CARE

A friend told me about CARE, and they asked me if I wanted to be a “community activator.”

First, I participated in a women’s club and learned about topics such as early marriage, bullying, child protection, and violence against women. It raised my own knowledge and made me stronger.

I was encouraged to hold my own sessions. At first, I hesitated because I did not know if I had the skills to do this. But now I know that a blind girl can do this.

I can make a difference and my community comes to my sessions specifically, because they want to hear about my experiences with a disability, and how I overcame the psychological impact of the trauma I went through.

I am a blind girl who survived a war, hunger, displacement, the loss of my home and my brother, and an earthquake.

In my community, I prevented a case of early marriage and helped a family to get the information where to receive help in bullying cases.

For my future, I wish to be someone who leaves behind traces in other people’s lives. I want to help others to cope with their difficult lives, because I know their pain.

My community trusts me. I connect voices and make them heard, that is a wonderful feeling.

Souad Aboud

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