Sultan’s endless walks

Thursday 3 August 2017

Sultan’s* days are mostly long. The end of each day is not decided by time, but by traffic. When there are no cars left on the street, it is a signal for him to go home.

‘’Sometimes, I stay at work until midnight,’’ starts Sultan, ‘’The other day, someone in a grey car pulled up where I was standing and tried to attack me. I screamed ‘Mom!’ but I guess my Mom was asleep at the time. I tried to defend myself. He opened the door but thankfully a car came from behind.’’

Sultan recalls this experience as he sits on a plastic chair in the room his family have made their home for five years. The bed in the backdrop is not for him. He sleeps on the floor, close to the gas canister and the kitchen sink. ‘’It is cooler in the summer,’’ he quips.

At 11, Sultan assumes the role of breadwinner after his father’s death in Syria. His oldest sister, Hasna*, has epilepsy and is struggling with frequent fits, while Maria*, 7, was recently diagnosed with rheumatism.

In Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, Sultan sells tissues and chewing gum. But he is willing to venture out for other trades if need be.

‘’Sometimes, I get tired. But I think of my mother and sisters,’’ Sultan says.

‘’I think of how I have to support them. I tell myself we need money. I try to find anything to do; wash cars or help people take the bins out.’’

Sultan doesn’t count the miles he walks each morning. It takes 40 minutes to get to one of the markets that he frequents. He says he is working against all odds, but also admits he is torn between hard choices.

‘’I am not young anymore. Yes, I am only 11, but this is big,’’ he saying, pointing to his head.

‘’An 11-year-old should be in school. But I see a lot of children who work.

‘’When my back hurts it makes me think ‘‘’where has this disaster come from?’’’ I never thought this would happen to me.’’

The future is uncertain but the damage is not beyond repair. Desperate to be given a second chance at childhood, Sultan decided to take action.  

‘’One day, I was so worried about my mother. I decided to go visit Save the Children to see if they could help me.

‘’I arrived there [to Save the Children’s office] and asked to meet the manager. A lady came down and I told her everything.’’

Sultan’s calls were heeded by Save the Children’s Case Management team. Supported by the US Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, immediate cash relief was provided so his two sisters could get the medication they needed. The aim now is to try find his mother Raghda*- who was a teacher in Syria- a job so that Sultan can go back to school.

‘’I worry about the future,’’ says Raghda. ‘’I worry that when my daughters grow up I will not be around. You never know what could happen.

‘’Thinking of tomorrow frightens me, but the present is just as scary.’’



*Names changed for protection purposes