Young IS sniper victim Maryam just wants a normal life

18 November 2017, 22:59

Somehow, Maryam Samir survived the war in Mosul but there was a moment several months ago when her father Ahmad left her for dead.

She was lying on the ground, covered in blood, after an Islamic State sniper had shot her in the head. The bullets were flying and her family were several hundred metres from safety.

Still, Maryam's mother told Ahmad to pick her up, despite the noise and the terror they felt. "You can't leave her here," she said. "Maryam is our daughter."

Four months on and Maryam is, in many ways, a typical 12-year-old girl. She likes to read and dress her dolls. She spends plenty of time at her uncle's house where her cousins are keen to play.

But Maryam does not look like other 12-year-olds. The gunman's bullet sliced through her skull, then travelled through her right eye and both sides of her nose. Her face bears the marks of this savage act and her mind is consumed with uncertainty.

In an interview conducted at her uncle's place, she said: "I keep thinking about getting my eyes back and about being normal again. Maybe my father can get his job and our house back as well?"

We first met Maryam in a badly overcrowded rehabilitation clinic back in July.

The hard-pressed physician running the place, Dr Saad Salem, had run out of just about everything he needed, including crutches, wheel chairs or artificial limbs. He could not help the girl with the disfigured face either.

According to the rules, Maryam's not eligible for treatment or financial support because she still has some vision in one eye.

"Come back in January and we'll take another look," shouted Dr Saad, as Maryam and her mother squeezed their way out of his office.

A few weeks later, a couple of local donors paid for Maryam to go to hospital in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Surgeons there removed the shrapnel in her skull and what was left of her right eye. But Maryam still needs her right eye socket and nose rebuilt and skin tissue grafts positioned on the surface.

The man who performed much of the initial work, Dr Jalal Fattah, told me the additional surgery would cost about £5,000 - a mighty sum in war-ravaged Iraq. But it would give Maryam a chance at a normal life.

"If you can correct these big defects now she can grow normally in psychological and physical ways and have a normal development.

"Otherwise, she may face depression and other psychiatric issues, I am afraid."

Maryam told me that she already has problems fitting in. She rarely goes outside because the kids at school told her she is unpleasant to look at.

"They call me 'the girl with no eyes'," she said.

"I sit by the front door of the house and sometimes I play with my toys. Other times I just stay indoors."

Her father, Ahmad Samir Abdullah, says the teasing and verbal abuse breaks his heart but he does not have money for further treatment.

"I haven't got anything for the operations. We don't have anything to cover her expenses. Everything (we own) was lost during the liberation of the city."

Ahmad used to drive a taxi - a shiny Volkswagen Golf - but it was destroyed in the final battle for the city by a bomb or a missile strike - he is not really sure which. Without a job, he thinks Maryam will probably have to do without.

"I'll try the Iraqi government in Baghdad and see if they can help us to continue her treatment but if they can't help we'll leave it there.

"We are powerless, we have only our patience."

Like the hard-pressed city she lives in, Maryam longs for an ordinary life. She may not feel comfortable at school but she dreams of being a teacher, of educating pupils in a peaceful place - and for the time being, it is a dream that sustains her.