2022, Dar’a, south Syria – “The children I teach, tell me their dreams consist of voices,” says Saad. He is a renowned local sculptor, and he teaches children with visual impairments to recognize spaces and shapes. “They don’t have images in their minds to refer back to and I hope to give them some new things to dream of, “he adds.
Saad's clay courses are held at the UNICEF -supported centre in Dar’a, south Syria and they are part of a UN Joint Programme. The Programme is a joint effort by six UN agencies, and it aims to strengthen urban and rural resilience by supporting people to cope with the impacts of protracted crisis in Syria and revive their pursuit of a better future.
Seven-year-old Kotada is one of the children who has benefitted from Saad’s arts classes, but before finding his way to the centre and the classes, he went through a difficult journey.
In 2011, the violence forced Kotada’s family to flee their home village in rural Dar’a. They were displaced multiple times and survived challenging circumstances.
In 2017, when temporarily in Da’el town, north of Dar’a city, the family rented a place for shelter. Ayman, Kotada’s father, with Amin and Mohammad, his eldest sons, sold old clothes for a living. One day, a shell fell while Kotada was playing outside and injured him severely – and changed his life forever.
“I heard a terrible noise, but the dust prevented me from seeing what had happened,” said his mother, who rushed out of the house to check on Kotada.
His sister Sidra, who is his best friend, was injured as well. They were taken to a hospital to be treated after the incident. Doctors told their mother that Kotada had lost his right eye and the left one required intensive treatment. Sidra had shrapnel all over her body and underwent several surgeries to remove them.
Despite the eye surgeries, Kotada lost his vision partially. He was only three at the time.
In late 2018, with respite in violence, his family returned home to Ataman and stayed in their conflict-damaged house. “We’re still fixing it today, but at least we’re at home,” said his mother Ghossoun.
Hoping to help Kotada regain some sense of normalcy and make friends, Ghoussoun approached an elementary school in the village. The school’s director told her about an education programme, supported by UNICEF through the UN Joint Programme, in Dar’a city. It welcomed children with visual impairments.
“In September 2021, my boy started school. His sister Sidra and his cousins would accompany him there,” added Ghoussoun. “I visit him during recess and look after him. I’ll always be his eyes instead of the ones he lost,” said Sidra.
At the same time, Kotada began frequenting the UNICEF -supported centre, part of the Joint UN Programme. There, he learned Braille. It is a language used by blind and partially sighted people. It consists of combinations of raised dots; all letters and numbers are represented by a combination so that books and other materials can be read through touch.
Kotada also took part in life skills sessions together with other children with visual impairments. The programmes are designed to help children with disabilities integrate and feel included in regular schools and empower them with skills for the future.
“He has become more confident and sociable,” said Ghoussoun about her son. He asks her to take him to the centre regularly.
The clay course was one of the courses Kotada and his peers participated in at the centre. “I intended to introduce the children to clay shaping while having fun. The results turned out surprisingly significant! Children began grasping the meaning of different shapes for the first time,” said Saad, the teacher.
Out his love for clay sculpting, Kotada used his spare time at home to play with homemade playdough and draw shapes he learned during the course. “We discovered Kotada has artistic talents. Who knows, he might become a famous artist in the future!” said his sister Sidra.
In Dar’a, UNICEF, under the UN Joint Programme, has reached more than 1,000 children with disabilities with remedial classes since 2021. Over 200 out of school children with disabilities have benefitted from education services tailored to their learning needs. Some 22,000 young people have been reached with youth empowerment activities. The activities are part of the UN Joint Programme, through UNICEF, and they have been implemented with support from the European Union and Norway. The UN Joint Programme on Urban and Rural Resilience is a unique pooled and multi-donor financing mechanism, offering an enabling platform to enhance joint analysis, coherent planning and joined-up implementation towards efficiency and greater impact.