Once upon a time, all 15-year-old Mayar Mohammad wanted was a mobile phone. It represented possibilities: to play games, watch movies, keep in touch with friends and explore the world beyond conflict-ridden Syria. Promised the reward of a phone if she did well in the general preparatory exams, she studied hard, keeping to her word so her father would keep to his. That’s the way these stories are supposed to work.
In the summer of 2013, Mayar was standing by the window of her home in the Khan Eshieh refugee camp, watching her cousin and a neighbour collect figs, when a mortar shell landed nearby. The glass of the window shattered, and some of the shards flew into Mayar’s eyes. The doctors call her injury ‘corneal opacity’, leading to blurred vision; what Mayar knows is that now she has difficultly getting around even her house, let alone the neighbourhood. They say she needs a cornea transplant that her family cannot afford – the weekly medical treatments are difficult enough.
That mortar did much more than damage Mayar’s eyesight, making it impossible to use a mobile phone: It showed clearly that life in the shadow of the Syrian conflict isn’t a fairytale. Children like Mayar, growing up in the middle of an enduring and devastating conflict, are especially vulnerable; they have so much to lose – including their futures. For them, everything can change in an instant, irrevocably.
Things are different now for Mayar. She can’t use a mobile phone; pain in her eyes means she cannot even go to school. But her dreams have expanded beyond a mobile phone; her goals and determination have hardened. It may be harder than ever, but she still plans to return to school, to pursue her education and do more than just read and write, but go on to become a doctor. A shy girl, Mayar let her mother tell most of her story, but spoke up herself to add: “I intend to become a full member of my community and to lead a new and useful life.”