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Syria crisis: SOS Children evacuates injured girl from Madaya

Five-year-old Rama was shot and seriously injured on her way to school
Five-year-old Rama was shot and seriously injured on her way to school

The news reached us yesterday that our team in Syria has helped evacuate a badly injured five-year-old girl from the besieged town of Madaya in western Syria.

This is an important step forward in the ongoing negotiations between SOS Children, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the government concerning the evacuation of vulnerable children from the town. 

Shot by several bullets as she walked to school last Thursday, Rama was in urgent need of surgery. As she lay on the operating table of a local veterinarian – the only person in Madaya with the skills to operate – her mother, Salma, waited desperately for news from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent about the possibility of an emergency evacuation for Rama.

Life-saving treatment

Just ten minutes before the surgery was due to begin, the phone rang confirming that an ambulance from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent was available to take Rama to a private hospital in Damascus where SOS Children’s Villages would provide the medical care she needed.

“The ten minutes of waiting for that confirmation were the longest of my life,” says Salma with tears in her eyes. Rushed immediately into the operating theatre, Rama underwent surgery to stop the bleeding and remove bullet fragments from her body. She is now recovering with her family by her side.

“I still can’t believe my eyes when I see her,” Salma says. “I ask myself: is it real that my daughter will jump and play again? Is it true that we are really out of Madaya?”

A childhood robbed by war

Rama receiving hospital treatment in Damascus
Rama's medical care at a private hospital in Damascus has been facilitated by SOS Children's Villages

Born just as the civil war erupted in Syria, Rama has known nothing but conflict, fear and violence in her short life. Her father is one of the thousands of men to go out to work and never return home. It is still not clear what happened to him. Bringing up Rama and her younger brother Samer as a single parent in the midst of a devastating conflict has been a real struggle for their mother.

“Since my husband disappeared, I have never thought about myself,” she says. “As a child I lived a perfectly happy childhood, one that I cannot give my children, not when I am alone in times of war.”

The desperate struggle to survive

Madaya has been under siege since July 2015. It has become increasingly difficult for the town’s residents to source food, fuel and clean water and hundreds of people are starving. “It was just the beginning of the summer when the siege started. Nobody had started to store anything yet and the previous year’s food had already run out,” explains Salma. “In the first month we didn’t feel much pressure because we had a few things that were still stored. Then, day by day, it started to get worse.”

Those who try to escape the town in search of food and water risk sniper fire and landmines. Many of them are children, sent by their parents because they are able to move faster and are more likely to avoid detection by the troops that encircle the town.

Those, like Salma and her family, who remained trapped in Madaya did everything they could to survive. “I had an apricot tree in my house and soon the neighbours and I started to take the leaves and boil them in water to eat,” says Salma. “I would also use some of the grass that grows after the winter rain in cooking. I mixed it with water and salt until finally there was nothing left but water and salt.”

Safe at last

Now sitting safe in Damascus at her daughter’s hospital bedside, Salma reflects on everything her family has been through. “My dream was to see my daughter alive and thanks to SOS Children’s Villages and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, that dream came true. I hope that my daughter can be the start of more and more children being evacuated from Madaya and all the other Syrian cities that are under siege.”

We have been working in Syria for over 40 years. Since 2012, we have been providing emergency relief to children and families affected by the war in locations across the country. We are continuing to provide that support alongside our efforts to help those Syrians who have fled their country and are seeking refuge in Lebanon and Europe. Find out more about our refugee crisis appeal and how you can help.