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Press Centre (2/2014)

A Syrian child in Ankara bearing the scar of war: Jumana

Jumana lives in with her mother and six siblings in a makeshift shack in the Dikmen Valley area of Ankara. ©UNICEF/Turkey-2014/Yurtsever
ANKARA, Turkey, February 2014 - War will undoubtedly leave deep marks in the memories of those Syrian children who have had to take refuge in a neighbouring country, bidding farewell to their homes, friends, schools and toys. For some children, the marks will be more than a recollection, they also bear the physical scars of war. Just like little Jumana from the city of Jarabulus.   

Jumana is an 8 year-old girl. Like all children, Jumana is beautiful and innocent; like all children she is still full of hope. What holds her apart from other children is the scar below her left eye, a reminder of the shrapnel which hit her during the conflict in Jarabulus. She will carry this scar for the rest of her life. “I am lucky to have not lost my eye”, says Jumana. We don’t ask her any more questions about the incident, so as not to revive the bad memories. 

Instead, we ask an age-old question familiar to all children. It is impossible to miss the immediate sparkle in her eye. If she is able to go to school, she answers quickly, she hopes that she can become a “doctor”. Clearly, she has not forgotten the doctors who treated her when she was injured.

A waste-paper world

But today Jumana lives in with her mother and six siblings in a makeshift shack in the Dikmen Valley area of Ankara. She lost her father in the conflict in Syria. She is the youngest child of the family. Her 12 year-old sister Rayna is also her best friend. Jumana has not been able to go to school either in Syria or in Turkey. Like all the other members of her family, she helps to earn a living by collecting waste paper. Each of them can earn 5-10 lira per day - about 3-4 US dollars.

Jumana tucks the drawing books we have brought for her as gifts under her arm, and we trudge along the muddy path to the shack which is her home. We pass through a small entrance hall and a “kitchen” full of haphazardly placed jars, mostly empty, into the single room of the house. Jumana sits down with her sister by the stove to get warm. Soon, she is giving her full attention to the drawing books and drawing as best she can. But soon she will have to leave the house to collect paper. Under these difficult conditions, she only has a few minutes to spare for her childhood.

Syrian population

Five other Syrian families have also set up home in this area. For long years, it was a squatter settlement; now it is a region of urban transformation and only five minutes’ walk from a modern and well-to-do district. Many of the old shanty-town houses have been demolished, but others are still standing, abandoned. And abandoned houses and shacks like these are now unexpectedly becoming homes once again - homes for families fleeing to Turkey from war-stricken Syria.

It is not known exactly how many Syrians are living in Ankara. However, it is estimated that there are more than 600,000 Syrians trying to survive in towns and cities in Turkey, in addition to more than 200,000 Syrians living in camps. In the streets of Istanbul, Ankara, Gaziantep, Adana and Hatay, Syrians are a common sight. Those lucky enough to find employment are working in the most difficult and lowest-paid jobs. It is a difficult life, perhaps one of the most difficult.

Especially for an eight year-old dreaming of becoming a doctor. 

Story and photos by Ayberk Yurtsever

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