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Press Centre (6/2017)

My Super Dad, My Super Hero

Ahmed El Ilevi demonstrates that you do not need supernatural powers to be a super dad

Adana, Turkey - The day begins not in Ahmed’s home but in the emergency room of a public hospital in Adana. This is where we start telling the story of Ahmed El Ilevi.
Emine, Ahmed’s oldest daughter, suffered damage to several organs when a bomb landed in the middle of their living room when they were in Syria. In search of treatment, Ahmed travelled to four different cities and took his daughter to five hospitals within a year. There were times when they were forced to sleep outside, in the front yards of hospitals which were still being bombed. Emine went through three operations on the various parts of her body that had been wounded. And today, exactly one month after her most recent surgery, she is in hospital yet again – this time with a fever and a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius. 
With no one to take care of his four other children, Ahmed had no choice but to take     them from hospital to hospital with him. Now he has to leave Emine in the emergency room alone and head home to prepare a meal for his four year-old son Huseyn, who drives him crazy with his snail-like walk, his five year-old daughter Esra, who is always climbing up doors, six year-old Azra, who is worried about her sister Emine, and the two year-old toddler Hasan, the one who needs the most attention of all.
Emine does not want her father to go home. She is scared of staying at the hospital by herself. She does not speak Turkish and she cannot communicate her needs. When asked, ”What would you like?”, she replies without hesitation, “I only want my dad to stay with me all the time”. Emine’s mother lost her life during the bombing of their house, in front of all her children. She was pregnant then. After the tragic death of a mother, the greatest feat a father can accomplish is to be close to his children all the time. 
At the entrance of their home, a tiny  rented apartment, the children wait for their father with excitement. Last month Ahmed was unable to pay the rent. He cannot work as he is the only one who can take care of his children; his only income comes from his relatives in Syria. 
Ahmed has barely time to dice tomatoes and put yoghurt in a bowl. “Since the passing of my wife, I have started to bond with the children much more,” he says. When asked about the hardship they are facing, he replies confidently, “If a father can’t take care of his children, what is he there for?” Although she is not at home right now, neighbour Fatma explains that Emine is “like the mother of the family - no longer a child”. Although only seven years old, Emine has had to take responsibility and assist her father with the household chores.
The other children also help their father by taking care of each other, and especially by looking after the two year-old Hasan.
“The youngest children are the smallest fruit of the tree,” says Ahmed. “You have to give the younger children more attention, but I can never find enough time as I have to do the laundry and the dishes and cook for the whole family. I was the youngest in my family too; I remember the times I used to play in the fields with my father. Now I try to play with my children just as my father did with me.”
“Normally, the father would go to work while the mother stays home to take care of the children,” Ahmed adds. “In our culture, children feel closest to their mothers, but that’s not how things worked out with us”.
While Ahmed prepares the meal, Huseyn comes over to chat with us. For Huseyn, his father is a super hero. He shows us a picture which he has drawn of his father. “My father can fly,” he says, “He’s flying towards me… He’s flying home… He’s flying and giving out fruit yoghurts to other people… Look, he’s flying again and handing out yoghurt to my friends…” In reality, Ahmed may not be able to fly, but in the eyes of his children he is a super hero.
Rather than marrying again, as others might have done in the same situations, Ahmed chose to remain a single parent. “My children and their health are my priority… I can’t think about anything else unless they are well. We have lost our home, our life. We have been through poverty, and been cast here and there by the wind.” Ahmed wants to be both a mother and a father to his children. He does not want to share this responsibility with anyone else.
“Heroes know how to keep their chins up at the worst of times,” says Ahmed. “But I’m not a hero; I just did what I had to do. Every father should take loving care of his children.” What he doesn’t realise is that just “being there” for his children has made him in their eyes even stronger than “Superman”. 

The war in Syria has created many super dads and Ahmed El Ilevi is one them. You do not need to have supernatural powers to be a super dad; all you have to do is to “be there” right beside them.

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