Last week, Syria Direct’s Bahira Zarier interviewed a 45-year-old single father living in a rebel-held neighborhood of Aleppo about how his only child, diagnosed as deaf at the age of two, navigates life in the city.
“My wife died [in an airstrike] while at a market two years ago, so I became both a mother and a father to Muhammad,” says Mohieddin Abdelafour, a day laborer.
When the special-needs school where seven-year-old Muhammad was thriving closed due to a lack of funding, his father enrolled him in the local public school because he could not afford a private one.
“He’s always sad when he goes to school because he has trouble integrating with his peers,” Abdelafour said of his son, who communicated via sign language. “They can speak to and understand each other, but he can’t hear and doesn’t understand what they’re saying.”
“I always encourage him, and tell him: “You’re smarter than they are even though you can’t speak with them.”
On April 30, four days after the original interview, Zarier reached out to Abdelafour over WhatsApp to request a picture of his son to be published alongside the interview.
Muhammad had been killed in a bombing, Abdelafour said.
Aleppo’s rebel-held al-Kalasa neighborhood, where Muhammad and his father lived, after a reported regime bombing on April 28. Photo courtesy of Shahba Press Agency.
“He didn’t hear what was happening,” says Abdelafour. “I was at work. The bombing was sudden, with no prior warning.”
Over the past two weeks, more than 250 people have been killed by regime bombardment and rebel shelling in Aleppo. Syria’s largest city is divided between neighborhoods of rebel and regime control. The violence continues unabated.
Q: Can you tell us about your son’s life in Aleppo and how he’s managing without access to specialized care?
My son Muhammad was born here in Aleppo. He is seven years old. When he was two, his mother and I discovered, after taking him to the doctor more than once, that he was deaf. It was a big shock for us.
We sent him to a center for those with special needs. There, he learned sign language, arithmetic, writing and computer skills. It was funded by charities, and was free. I just paid the basic cost of transportation. We felt he was advancing noticeably while he was there.
After the revolution began, Aleppo city was hit by many air raids. My wife died while at a market two years ago, so I became both a mother and a father to Muhammad.
Making things even worse for Muhammad, the center he attended closed a year later due to a lack of funding. Other centers exist, but they’re expensive and my financial situation as a day laborer doesn’t allow me to send him. He was devastated because he was separated from the teachers he loved a lot, and who had given him self-confidence.
When I saw my child in this condition, I enrolled him in a nearby public school. I went to the school and explained his situation to the administration. There’s a teacher who is very accommodating. She understands his health condition and always encourages him. Muhammad always surpasses his peers in writing and math, and the teacher, Fatima, says that the problem he faces is that there aren’t many institutions that would allow him to develop his skills.
When Muhammad comes home after school, he helps me with all of the housework. He’s always sad when he goes to school because he has trouble integrating with his peers. They can speak to and understand each other, but he can’t hear and doesn’t understand what they’re saying.
I always encourage him and tell him: You’re smarter than they are, even though you can’t speak with them. So he smiles, encouraged to go back, to study and persevere once again.
On April 30, Bahira al-Zarier reached out to Muhammad’s father via WhatsApp for a photograph to publish alongside the interview. This was his response:
My son, Muhammad Abdelafour, died at noon two days ago with some other children when al-Kalasa neighborhood was bombed.
He died because he didn’t hear what was happening. The entire neighborhood we live in was destroyed. I was at work. The bombing was sudden, with no prior warning.
Aleppo’s children are dying regardless of any disabilities, due to the planes and bombardment by Assad and his allies.
Instead of publishing an interview about my smart son, it’s turned into an interview about my son Muhammad, the martyr, may he rest in eternal peace.
Full responsibility for my son’s death lies with a world that looks at Aleppo being annihilated and just sits there. A world watching how our children and our country are being annihilated and doesn’t move a muscle.
I won’t leave Aleppo. I will stay here until I die and am buried under her pure earth. Only God will help you, Aleppo. The whole world is weak before the blood of your children.