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Press Centre (8/2016)

Cash Assistance Can Put a Smile Back on a Child's Face

Mahmud's face remains severely scarred from the wounds he sustained during a bomb attack in Aleppo. All photo credits: © UNICEF Turkey/2016/Barkan
IZMIR, 27 July 2016 - All smiles are invaluable, but some are to be especially cherished. Like the one blossoming on 8 year old Mahmoud’s face – proof of increased control over his expressions, and a sign that he is recovering after a long and difficult treatment. 

Two years ago, Mahmoud was critically injured by the conflict related violence while playing in his home in the city of Aleppo, in northern Syria. He was quickly rushed across the Turkish border to a hospital in Gaziantep, where he stayed in intensive care for over a month. Though he recovered, his face and body remain severely scarred and the psychological trauma he suffered continues to haunt him.
Unable to find work, Mahmoud’s parents returned to Aleppo, leaving him with his grandmother, Yeter. Entrusted to care for Mahmoud – in addition to her 5 young children – Yeter decided to resettle in Izmir, where she felt safer. Once in İzmir, Yeter and her family became regulars at UNICEF’s Child Protection Support Centre in Alsancak, run by the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (ASAM). There, she was able to find the treatment Mahmoud so desperately needed, supported by the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) Emergency Cash Assistance fund. 
The centre’s medical staff regularly follows up on Mahmoud’s recovery, and provide him with injections to repair the damaged tissue on his neck and face. “Thanks to the assistance we received,” she told us, smiling, “I was able to pay for Mahmoud’s treatment, and still had money left over to cover some of my rent. It couldn’t have come at a better time, thanks God!” 
But that’s not all – the centre also provides a safe space for children like Mahmoud to socialize and play. When we ask him if he likes coming to the centre, Mahmoud breaks into a big smile and nods his head vigorously. Explains Yeter: “When Mahmoud tries to play with children outside, they mock and discriminate against him because of the way he looks. He used to get so upset that he would never go anywhere without his mask and sunglasses.” She looks away, briefly, before continuing. “But the centre is different – it’s the only place where he is truly comfortable being himself. He is so free and happy here, he would come every day if he could.” 
Unfortunately, that’s not always feasible. With no regular income, Yeter and her children are forced to work in order to make ends meet. Her eldest son, 14, is the family’s main breadwinner, working at a shoe factory six days a week and earning 100 TL – roughly USD $30 – per week. Yeter and her other children supplement this income cleaning the streets in front of local businesses for up to 35 TL per week. “I would love to send my children to school where they can learn and socialize and build a future for themselves,” she confesses, “but in our condition, what else can I do?” 
Yeter glanced at her daughter Betül, aged 11, who was quietly coloured with some crayons. When we ask Betül about her dreams for the future, she lights up – “I want to be a doctor, so I can look after my mom and Mahmoud.” As for Mahmoud, he has different aspirations. When we ask him the same question, he smiles shyly and then points toward the amusement park he passes by each day on his way to the CPSC. For now, he just wants to feel free to play outside.

UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org