When he was only 18 months old, Zain’s village in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor came under attack by ISIS. As his parents rushed to escape the shelling, they spilt boiling tea on his arm, leaving him permanently scarred and unable to feel or move his arm properly.
His family could not afford to treat him in a country ripped apart by nearly 12 years of war and the little boy has been affected by the disability for most of his life.
After Deir Ezzor was overrun in 2014, Zain and his family were forced to live under brutal ISIS rule for years.
“We witnessed daily atrocities.” said Yasmina, his 39-year-old mother.
His family managed to flee to Lebanon in 2017, but the little boy was traumatised in addition to being physically scarred by years of violent conflict.
With the help of Inara, an NGO founded in 2015 by former CNN correspondent Arwa Damon with offices in Beirut, he sought life-changing surgery that restored his mobility completely.
“The war experience was very traumatising — for the first time in a long time, Zain is very happy, he is full of life and energy,” Yasmina said.
Now 10 years old, Zain is one of the hundreds of conflict-affected children from all nationalities helped by Inara, which provides them with medical and psychological support.
While he has recovered from his physical injuries, Zain is one of nearly two million Syrian refugees living in destitution in neighbouring Lebanon, according to Lebanese authorities.
Syrians are twice as likely to have a disability as the average person because of war injuries and a lack of access to medical services, UN data show.
But as Christmas approaches, Zain and the 10 other injured children who sing in Inara’s choir have found a space to enjoy holiday cheer and experience the childhood happiness that he was robbed of for so long.
“I get to do a lot of fun activities here and I love it,” he said with a gentle smile, his thin voice almost drowned out by the joyful Christmas songs being played in the next room.
Today, Zain and his friends are rehearsing for a special event: a Christmas concert.
Inara aims to raise $300,000 through the purchase of tickets to the event. The concert is virtual and can be watched at any preferred date or time after making a donation.
“This year, we decided that our fundraising event should include the children we are helping to show them what they are capable of,” Ms Damon said.
In the rented studio where the choir meets for rehearsal, the children enthusiastically sing cheerful music, surrounded by colourful Christmas decorations.
Ms Damon founded the charity after she witnessed countless cases of children in conflict zones who did not have access to proper medical care.
Since the start of the economic crisis in 2019, more Lebanese families are seeking help from NGOs because they are unable to pay for proper medical treatment.
Inara began catering to impoverished Lebanese families after the onset of the crisis, especially after the devastating Beirut blast in August 2020, which put poverty-stricken children at risk of being disabled because of untreated injuries.
“This year’s Christmas concert is spreading a message of diversity and inclusion, by putting these children, who are often disregarded in our society, in the spotlight they deserve,” Inara’s founder said.