One afternoon in spring 2013, four-year-old Bana went to play at a local swimming spot with her neighbors. But one of the adults had brought a gun — in Syria, weapons have become commonplace. He hid it out of sight, but it was discovered by a young boy. The gun went off. Bana was shot in the chest.
“The boy who shot Bana was only five years old,” says Bana’s mother, Amal. “It wasn’t his fault, it was an accident. It was the fault of the adult who allowed him to find the gun. I took Bana to a small clinic but there was no medication or bandages. They operated on her without anaesthesia.”
In the clinic, Bana was surrounded by the bodies of people killed and injured in recent bombings. The little girl was left severely traumatized. She started shouting at everyone she knew, “Go, go, go! Get out of here now, you will die in this place!”
At the time of the accident, the family was living in a Damascus suburb. “We were in a bad situation — we were stuck in the town,” Amal explains. “There were a lot of guns around. I saw many bodies also, that’s why I was afraid all the time.”
Bana returned home but she couldn’t eat. She retreated into herself: “Bana stopped talking,” Amal says. “She wasn’t eating, she became aggressive, she was beating her older brother and sister. She was afraid to go out, to open the door, she was always afraid. Also she refused to walk. She always wanted me to carry her. She wasn’t sleeping well, she had nightmares and would wake up suddenly.”
The UNHCR offered to get Bana and her family out of Syria, but the same night, a bomb hit their house. Bana was injured again, as were her sister and mother.
“I took them to the clinic and Lana (Bana’s sister) got treatment for her injured head,” Amal recalls. “She was ok, but they couldn’t do anything to help Bana. They said her body would automatically reject the shrapnel because the wounds were superficial. But even now she still has shrapnel in her body.”
As soon as they could, the family fled for the border.
In Lebanon, Handicap International found Bana and her family. With the help of a Handicap International psychologist, the little girl has slowly started to recover. It is a long and painful process; she’s still constantly afraid, refusing to leave her mother’s side, and she shouts every time she hears a plane.
“It was very difficult to start physical rehabilitation with Bana before Rayan (our psychologist) saw her,” explains Abeer, a physical therapist. “It was a big problem. Bana refused to let me touch her.
“The first time I met Bana I talked with her, saying, ‘I’m your friend, I just want to talk and I want to play with you’, but she refused. She was always shouting and would never accept anyone. But after Rayan visited her a lot of times she started to accept me, and we would visit her together. We started to play and Rayan supported her psychologically with encouragement, so she started to improve.”
Although shy at first, Bana eventually opens up during a recent visit. She says, “I love playing with girls, especially Abeer (her physiotherapist). And I play with Noor my best friend. We play girly games like hairdressing. My favorite thing is my toy rabbit.”
Abeer uses the toy rabbit (pictured) to do exercises with Bana, helping the little girl recover from the gunshot wound she suffered.
“I like it in Lebanon because in Syria they attacked us,” Bana says.
Her mother, Amal, agrees: “Living in Lebanon is better. All we would see at home was fighting and gunfire. I didn’t like it. Even before the accident, we always felt in danger. For one-and-a-half years we were living without bread, there was no food. We were just eating rice. There was no milk, no vegetables, nothing.
“It affected the children a lot. They were crying all the time but I told them it would be ok, someone will come and we will get out of this place.”
Now five years old, Bana is clearly still dealing with the trauma she experienced, but she’s a different girl from when our team first visited her.
Abeer agrees. “There has been a lot of change. When I saw her playing for the first time, I felt really happy and proud. And today (when we visited) I felt so happy because she was talking and playing, and moving here and there.”
Some names have been changed at the request of the interviewees.