'A gift from god': Syrian baby in good health a year after surviving earthquake

Rescue workers found Afraa under the rubble, connected by umbilical cord to her dead mother

Baby born under Syrian quake rubble now lives happily with uncle

Baby born under Syrian quake rubble now lives happily with uncle
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It will take years for Syrian baby Afraa to realise she was once in the news headlines, with people from around the world reaching out to her relatives and aid agencies offering help.

She was born under the rubble of a building destroyed during the earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria a year ago, causing large-scale damage to her hometown of Jindiris in the north.

Rescue workers in Jindiris, the hardest-hit Syrian area in the disaster, discovered Afraa a day after the February 6 earthquake. Her umbilical cord was still connecting her with her mother, also called Afraa, who had died. Her father and her four siblings were also killed.

"We will tell her about her story, slowly, as she grows up," her uncle Khalil Sawadi tells The National.

After the earthquake the couple, who have six children of their own, adopted Afraa and lived with their family for months in a tent before moving to a house.

The baby was initially called Aya (miracle), then the name was changed to Afraa in honour of her late mother.

She is one of the many orphaned survivors of the earthquake. Reports at the time said she had lost her arm but this turned out not to be true.

"Her health is good," says Mr Sawadi.

Next to him, Afraa, who is on the verge of uttering her first words "papa", is playing with worry beads held by Mr Sawadi.

Of the 50,000 people who died in the 7.8-magnitude earthquake, 13 per cent were in Syria. The impoverished areas outside the control of President Bashar Al Assad in the north-west of the country bore the heaviest brunt.

Footage of Afraa barely alive being carried away from her destroyed home a year ago, circulated on social media, causing widespread concern.

She was taken to hospital in nearby Afrin. Both Jindiris and Afrin are part of the northern Syrian enclave near Turkey, which is controlled by Syrian rebels opposed to the President.

The baby arrived with bumps and bruises, cold and barely breathing. But she made it through the ordeal and was adopted by the Sawadis.

When she was a baby, dozens of people from the Middle East and beyond offered to adopt her.

Some even asked to help the whole Sawadi family to move abroad with Afraa.

Mr Sawadi says he and his wife did not want to leave Syria, although he described the infrastructure as "so bad" in Jindiris.

The rubble has been cleared but the city remains "without reconstruction", he says, although food, medicine and survival kits did eventually reach Jindiris, mainly from Turkey.

"People want housing, roads, water and a sewage system, not mattresses," Mr Sawadi says.

He hopes the situation will have changed by the time Afraa grows up.

"She is a gift form God, as dear as my kids, even dearer."

Additional reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman

Updated: February 06, 2024, 6:37 AM