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Kassem has dreams. He hopes to become an Art Teacher. He is adept at billiards and he spends a good part of his spare time playing billiards with friends (Kristóf Hölvényi/Jesuit Refugee Service)

Baalbek, 15 March 2017 - It is a tragedy, which will forever remain etched in his memory. He narrates it as though it happened just yesterday. He recalls the exact date it took place in August 2013. Kassem was just about eight years old (today he is around twelve years old) - like any other child in Syria, enjoying the fun and games, quite oblivious of the conflict, which had enveloped the lives of his family and the neighbours around. 

On that fateful day, a bomb hit the house of their neighbour in his village of Al-Ghouta (Deir Al Asafir). All his family came running out of their house to see what had happened and for their own security. His mother, who was then six months pregnant, rushed back into their house to turn off the gas. Kassem does not remember what happened next. He was later told that another bomb fell on top of them – killing in seconds his father and his three siblings: two sisters and a brother. He and his pregnant mother were the only survivors. The bomb had blown away his right leg.

Together with some other relatives and friends, they had to leave everything behind and flee to Jaramana (in rural Damascus). Sometime later, with great difficulty, his mother found her way to Lebanon with Kassem.  There she gave birth to a boy whom they named Hammud. Today Baalbek in the Bekaa valley is their home. His mother has been fortunate enough to find a job in a furniture shop to help make both ends meet.

For Kassem, life, in some ways, has come full circle. He finds much fulfilment in the JRS run Noor-2 Educational Centre in Baalbek.  The Centre is a place where he finds acceptance and belonging and above all, the possibility to do something positive in life. ‘Oh yes’, he quips, “some of my friends do make fun of me and call me ‘no-legs!’”. He says it with pain because he certainly does not like being teased. However, with a measure of self –confidence, which characterises him Kassem continues, “I can do everything they can do and sometimes, much more.” To prove this to me, he runs down a flight of steps at the Centre, which could easily put to shame a completely able-bodied child of his age. 

Kassem has dreams. He loves Art and English. His favourite teacher is his Art Teacher. He hopes that one day, he will become an Art Teacher too. He is adept at billiards and he spends a good part of his spare time playing billiards with friends.

True, the conflict has taken away much of his childhood- but no worries for Kassem. He is ready to bravely face the challenges of a new world.

Kristóf Hölvényi