Over half of the people living in Khazer camp are under the age of eighteen. As the sun shines, the roadways fill with children enjoying the good weather before the winter sets in.
One group has knotted together scraps of fabric to make a skipping rope. Another has invented a game with water bottles. Not far away, a little girl in a wheelchair sits in front of a tent, watching them.
When she sees Handicap International’s team, Tiba’s face breaks into a smile. The team bends to greet her. “I want to run around and play too,” she whispers to them. “I’m tired of sitting down. I want to stand up.”
Farez, Tiba’s father, invites the team inside the tent he shares with his parents and three children. “Tiba seemed fine when she was born,” explains the single father. “She was two months premature but seemed healthy. The doctors didn’t tell us that anything was wrong. But by her first birthday, she still couldn’t stand up.”
“So I went to see several doctors and they told me that she would never walk because she had most probably suffered of a lack of oxygen at birth. That’s when Tiba’s mother left. I was devastated. But my parents made sure I never gave up hope and did everything I could to help my daughter.”
As Tiba’s grandfather sweeps her up in his arms, Farez recalls life in Mosul before the Islamic State group arrived.
“Our daily life was fairly normal,” he says. “I worked as a taxi driver and did what I could to make ends meet for my children and parents. My only worry was the fact that Tiba couldn’t go to school. They all had refused because of her disability. But she’s actually very gifted and bright.”
We were really afraid
In 2014, everything changed for Farez and his family. “When Mosul was captured by the Islamic State group, I became so afraid. Everything was forbidden and I was really worried about what might happen to my children, particularly Tiba. When we escaped from Mosul two weeks ago, it was as if a weight had been taken off my shoulders.”
Farez and his relatives left on foot and pushed Tiba in her wheelchair for several miles. “We went from village to village. We were really afraid because they fired at people fleeing the city,” he adds.
“Thank God we made it here. Life isn’t easy in the camp: we don’t have much to do apart from staying in our tents, and with winter just around the corner conditions, are very harsh. But at least we’re safe.”
Tiba’s father looks at his daughter, then at his other children. “All that matters now is to make sure they have the best possible future. Maybe Tiba can go to school here. We taught her to read and count at home.”
Our team asks the little girl what she’d like to be when she grows up. “I want to be like you and help people in the camp,” she replies with a smile.