Inside Syria's unique 'village for the blind'

A project to help the visually impaired in the country's war-devastated north will soon have 200 apartments

Blind nine-year-old boy changed the lives of 100 families Syria

Blind nine-year-old boy changed the lives of 100 families Syria
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A year ago, The National met Yazan Hussein Qassam, a blind nine-year-old boy displaced from Ablin, Zawiya Mountain, in Syria's northern governorate of Idlib.

For three years he had been living in a tent in the Kill refugee camp, one of hundreds of similar camps in northern Syria catering for more than 1.8 million people displaced by conflict.

“I wish for our misery in the tent to end and to have a village for us, the blind,” he said.

A year later, his wish was granted when he moved to Nour Village, a unique charity project established in 2021 which hosts the severely visually impaired and their families.

“Now I go to school every day and learn how to read with Braille”, says Yazan. He was blind at birth and he has never seen light. “I feel good here with my family and friends,” he tells The National.

A charity for Syria's blind

Nour Village is a residential complex in north-west Syria built by Basaier, a Kuwaiti charity, and staffed by the local humanitarian organisation Al Diaa, according to Nour Village's manager Amer Mahmoud Jarad.

Like those he looks after, he is also sightless and manages his work with the Talkback app, an Android programme that helps blind people to use their phones.

The village design currently has 182 apartments, 103 of which are being prepared for new families.

Meanwhile, the charity is applying to continue construction work. The project manager says they have created a system to assess requests to live there based on need, including the number of children in the family and the number of visually-impaired.

“Each family accepted in the project has one blind person or more”, says Amer Jarad.

“There are two kinds of blind people, those blinded by birth and those who lost their sight due to war injuries. For the blind by birth it is easier for them to cope with than those who suffered war injuries”, he adds.

Ahmed Hatem Al Hamid, 29, lost his sight in 2016 after a missile launched by the Syrian regime on his village struck him with shrapnel. “Our village was in the firing line”, says Mr Al Hamid.

Originally from Al Hawash village on the Al Ghab Plain in rural Hama – once the scene of heavy fighting – he is married and has two children. He now lives in Nour Village but says life is still hard because his wife was also seriously injured in the same attack.

Ahmed is the only blind person in his family, but the missile that blinded him also destroyed his wife’s leg, and she now depends on a prosthetic limb to go about her daily life.

Ahmed Habob, 40, has a family of five including his wife and three daughters. Like Yazan, he was blind at birth and lived in the eastern countryside of Shallakh in north-east Idlib until he moved to Nour Village.

“I heard of Nour Village from my wife, we registered and moved to the village after three months”, says Ahmed.

Basic daily needs

“I find life here more comfortable than I do with people who can see,” Nour Village manager Amer Jarad said.

He says most towns in northern Syria hit by 12 years of conflict have no hope of catering to the unique needs of the visually impaired.

“The village is designed to ease life for them. There’s a school, park, market and mosque, but it still lacks an active medical centre,” he says. “The centre is prepared but the work on it has not started yet.”

Different aspects of the village are designed with blind people in mind.

Roads are specially paved to make movement easier for the sightless, and carefully organised so people can make their way around with relative ease. Wall tiles around the village are marked with Braille letters and other aides for navigation.

“I place my hand on the building to recognise its number, our apartment number is nine”, says Yazan. He says he loves living in the village, a place where he can finally find his way around without help, where all apartment doors are marked with Braille.

Ahmed Al Hamid, another village resident, recognises his house by the number four on his door. “The road is paved and it is easy to go around walking. Most of the time I go to the mosque or the market on my own”.

The apartment's tiles have patterns to help blind people live more comfortably in different rooms.

“I can get into the rooms by myself, I find the kitchen and house entrance by touching the tiles”, says Mr Habob.

He says his life has changed for the better since he moved to Nour Village. “My mind has become clearer, especially knowing everyone is blind, like me”.

“We wish there would be monthly financial aid to provide a decent life for the blind”, says Nour Village manager Amer Jarad. Many residents – despite their appreciation and their vastly improved situation, say life is still tough.

“I cannot work. There are lots of things my house lacks and I cannot afford to buy them, we get no financial or food aid”, Ahmed Al Hamid says. “We still need financial aid to raise our kids”, adds Mr Habob.

One hundred families have moved to a place which is safer and more comfortable, but the need is still great as there are more than 3,000 blind people in north-west Syria, according to statistics collected by local aid groups.

Updated: June 19, 2023, 7:59 AM