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Imagine Life Without Hands — For This 15-Year-Old, That's Reality

Photo: courtesy of Inara.
Fatima lost her hands in an explosion at her home in Syria.
The last thing Fatima* remembers doing with her hands is brushing her hair.

Then there was an explosion that destroyed her house in Syria. Neither Fatima nor her mother, Nafla, can recall exactly what happened next. Nafla, who raised Fatima on her own, only remembers fleeing the scene with her bleeding daughter.

“I was very happy before the accident,” Fatima, now a Syrian refugee, told Refinery29 via a caseworker. “I could go out and take care of myself." But that accident “destroyed everything.” It left the 15-year-old with burnt stumps where her hands used to be.

Fatima is far from the only child to suffer the horrific consequences of a civil war that has raged for more than five years in Syria. More than 80% of the Middle Eastern country's children — 8.4 million — have been impacted by the conflict, either in their homes or as refugees, according to UNICEF. UNICEF verified nearly 1,500 “grave violations” against Syrian children last year.

"Some are left with permanent scars, or worse, with life-altering wounds or irreversible damage," Juliette Touma, A UNICEF spokesperson, told Refinery29.

I wish to have hands again, to go out with my friends, and [to] write.

Those children include Aref, who was a young boy of 5 when a rocket set his house on fire, the flames disfiguring his face. Rocket shrapnel hit Joud, shattering his lower face and fracturing his jaw. Alaa, too, had her jaw blown off. Part of her hip has now been inserted into her face. And Cedra was just 7 years old when a bomb and the resulting fire killed four of her sisters. She survived, but is covered in burns.

All of those children, including Fatima, are now receiving medical aid with the support of the International Network for Aid, Relief, and Assistance (INARA), a nonprofit organization that receives cases by referral, and then fully finances the treatments needed.

INARA connects children from conflict zones with medical professionals who help save their lives or perform life-altering surgeries on them. It was cofounded by Arwa Damon, a CNN senior international correspondent who has reported extensively on the Syrian conflict and the refugee crisis. The group has launched a new campaign, #FatimasHands, aimed at raising funds to help the teen's cause.

Damon, whose mother is Syrian, wanted to make a “tangible difference,” and began INARA to help the wounded children and their families, who might otherwise fall through the cracks, access the people and the money needed to treat the children. The organization says 100% of donations go directly toward covering medical costs, unless a donor requests otherwise.

“In a world where evil appears to be thriving, where the global game of politics and war has shattered too many lives, where it seems that humanity has failed itself, [INARA] is our part in trying to bring people together for the sake of the most vulnerable victims of war,” Damon wrote on the organization's website.

In Fatima's case, that vulnerability didn't end with the explosion. Basic first aid from a nearby house was used to treat Fatima’s “mangled hands,” but the bandages may have done more harm because the gauze stuck to the wounds and caused an infection. Fatima will need several surgeries to repair the damage.
“We have had a tough journey,” Fatima said. “There was no medicine, and my hands were hurting a lot," she added. "My situation was very bad."

For two years, the family trekked from one village to another hoping the war would end. But violent clashes kept occurring. Mother and daughter eventually made it to Lebanon, where they first lived with a local family. But the new hosts made fun of Fatima, “and she would often cry,” her mother said. The two now stay in a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) apartment in Lebanon, but Fatima keeps the ends of her arms tucked in her pockets if she leaves the house, which is not often.

“She found this very traumatic…She is unable to face the world on her own," her mother said.

Early this year in January, just before her 15th birthday, the young Syrian had the first of many operations that will hopefully restore the use of her hands by eventually attaching finger-like prosthetics. But in total, her medical care will cost $50,000, of which only 39% has been raised.

The family hopes the treatment will allow Fatima to go back to doing normal activities for girls her age, like dressing herself and going to school.

“I wish to have hands again, to go out with my friends, and [to] write,” Fatima said, adding that she wanted to do simple things like help with the chores and make her mother coffee. “This is my wish.”

To raise awareness about Fatima’s case, INARA is asking people to share the last thing they did with their hands using #fatimashands. Learn more about INARA's work, including how to donate, here.

Editor's note: *Subjects' last names have been withheld to protect their anonymity.