Photoblog: 'Inspirational' Elaf, the Syrian girl leading her family through life after an airstrike

Photoblog: 'Inspirational' Elaf, the Syrian girl leading her family through life after an airstrike
In pictures: Aaref Watad spends the day with ten-year-old Elaf al-Hussein, who is not letting the loss of a leg in an airstrike hold her back.
5 min read
24 April, 2018
Elaf's family say the ten-year-old inspires them [Aaref Watad]
Elaf al-Hussein enjoys her school days with her friends and her return home to her father and sisters.

The ten-year-old is from the southern countryside of Aleppo province, but was displaced with her family in the middle of 2016 to the city of Idlib.

"On the morning of Thursday, June 29, 2016, my father and I went to the monthly food distribution office in the city of Idlib to receive the relief basket," she said.

"With a loud explosion and dust and loud screams, I fell to the ground and screamed with pain. I heard my voice, then I was unconscious and I thought I had lost my life. I was unconscious for a whole day.

"When I woke up I began to ask what happened and where are my legs? Where is my father?"

She lost a leg but her ambition and optimism did not prevent her from continuing her life and completing her education.

"My mother told me what happened," she said. "It was a warplane that dropped an explosive rocket near the relief centre where we were. I lost my leg, my father was hit by shrapnel in his body, and my cousin died."

The shock of the injury meant it was difficult to accept at first.

"Then I started to think about the school and how I would go back to it and see my friends and I am - but I can not play with them and run around everyday as usual.

"Everything is more difficult, when I need to do anything or walk or go to school I have to rely on my crutches that I have used since I returned from the hospital."

Elaf recalls with sadness her memories from before the attack as she looks at old pictures on a mobile phone. She returns to the pictures every day. 

"When I returned to school I started in the first grade as I had missed so much because of the injury, and today I spend my days well. I have great ambition to become a teacher in the future.

"I draw children, the bombing - and I write stories of children who are like me in Syria.

"I just want someone to help me get a comfortable prosthesis, that can take the place of my leg that I lost in the missile attack. I have a prosthetic leg right now but I don't use it because it is uncomfortable and hampers my walking," Elaf said.

Elaf's mother said the girl had lost her leg "because of her kindness and love for her father".

"My husband, Elaf's father, had been injured for some time. Elaf was accompanying him and helping him out at the time."

Elaf's father also had a leg amputated following the attack.

"When I heard about the bombing and of Elaf and her father's injuries, I searched the hospitals looking for them. The shock was huge," Elaf's mother said.

"I asked myself if it was possible for both of them to be injured so badly, for two people in the same family to lose one of their limbs.

"I hoped that what they [the medics] were saying wasn't true, but it was and I was in shock. I entered the room where they were but I could not lift their covers because I could not bear the sight. 

"On the second day I spent with her in hospital, a nurse came to clean her wounds and I saw her injured leg. I fainted at the sight of it."

On a typical day, Elaf gets up in the morning and goes to school with her three sisters. Despite her injury, she is the one who takes care of them, and at noon she returns to the family home with her father to have lunch.

After lunch, she and her sisters study and do their chores and homework, and then they can play.

"I was very frustrated and deeply saddened by what happened to my daughter," says Elaf's father.

"But this is her grief and she will overcome it and live a full life. I know because I before her had experienced the same suffering.

"So every day I go, despite getting tired from my injury, to Elaf's school and walk her and her sisters back to the house and encourage them live life to the fullest despite the loss something as important in life as one's leg."
Elaf's family are far from affluent, but Elaf's father makes every effort, despite his injury, to give his family a beautiful life.

Despite her pain, Elaf's warmth continues to inspire her extraordinary family.
Elaf (far left) has returned to school, despite missing a lot of time recovering from her injuries [Aaref Watad]

Elaf aspires to become a teacher [Aaref Watad]

Elaf plays with her friends, but wishes she could have a better-fitting prosthetic leg that would be more comfortable to wear daily [Aaref Watad]

Elaf's father picks her and her sisters up from school each day [Aaref Watad]

Elaf's father was already injured in the war, and so Elaf was helping him the day the attack claimed a limb from each of them [Aaref Watad]

Each day, Elaf pores over photos from before the attack [Aaref Watad]

Elaf's family, displaced from Aleppo, have lunch together after school in their accommodation in Idlib [Aaref Watad]

After lunch, it's time for homework [Aaref Watad]

Finally, time to play! [Aaref Watad]

Elaf is the heart of the family, taking care of her sister when they have problems [Aaref Watad]

Elaf's mother says her daughter inspires the rest of her family [Aaref Watad]

Aaref Watad is a journalist and photographer from northern Syria. Follow him on Twitter @aboshamariha