8-Year-Old Refugee Who Uses Tin Cans for Legs, Will Walk Again

The ground rumbled violently, causing shockwaves that rattled buildings to their core; and when the structures began to crumble in their very places, thick clouds of dust swallowed the air, blanketing its surroundings. Another boom, and pat-pat-pat-pat-pat later caused piercing screams to ripple here, there, and everywhere; and anguished cries, and angry shouts spattered in the bedlam field. In the dust, darkened silhouettes could be seen scurrying around madly like ants whose nests had been obliterated. It was the only thing these people could do; for their homes had been destroyed too.

The Syrian citizens in blast were being tested on their survival skills. They had to scour for the scarce remains of food, find untouched areas to live, and hide from those who had become wild with aggression, patrolling the now desolate streets with various firearms and other weapons. These people lived in fear; expecting the worst, each and every day. So, what caused this harried way of life?

A Civil War Begins

What began as pro-democracy protests escalated into security forces opening fire against demonstrators; killing several of them. This sparked anger in the Syrian people, and many began to protest against their president, Bashar al-Assad; demanding he resign. As the government continued to use force to silence those people’s voices, the civilians became more determined to fight back, and resorted to using firearms too. It soon became a war against the president and his loyal followers, versus the protesting civilians.

War at Its Worst

It didn’t take too long for the fighting to escalate, and within two years, nearly 100 000 Syrian citizens had died. Another two years later, and that total figure had more than doubled, as both sides became even more serious with their attacks. Many techniques had been used in battle, in particular, air strikes, which included gaseous rockets that killed hundreds of people. The government blamed rebel forces for that, but the rebels declared that it was something only the acting forces could pull off. So, with their country no longer safe to live in regardless of what side they were on, many Syrians flocked together, seeking freedom from their war-torn land.


Having abandoned their homes, the millions of escapees only had a small handful of belongings; those of which they were able to carry when they left. They sought shelter in encampments run by the United Nations; and although they were generally overcrowded areas, these impoverished refugees still had a tent to live in and were given food rations. Some of them, who have spent a few years in such camps resorted to crafting canvas bags and other items to make a bit of money. The community that developed also kept them distracted. Although it wasn’t an ideal situation, they were safer there than at war.

The Young Girl

In amongst this mass of people was a young girl, eight, to be exact; and she was living in a tent with her father. Their encampment was in the northern region of Syria, and they were also running away from the conflict and war that was damaging their hometown. Hearing about the civil war all over the news, journalists and humanitarians alike travelled to the encampment, as well as others scattered across the county, to document the effects of war. When they reached a camp in the Idlib area, many were shocked to see such a young body struggling to shuffle across the grounds; and were even more startled to see that she only had makeshift legs.

The Tin, The Plastic, The Motion

Upon closer inspection, people could see that the makeshift stubs that barely managed as legs were made of plastic tubing, a material that wrapped over the top of the tube for comfort and old tuna cans as a more solid base. This young girl, named Maya Merhi, had been living with the homemade prosthetic limbs for a while; it was a design that her father crafted so that she could do more than crawl around. He too, was missing his legs and was confined to a wheelchair because of it; but he had come to terms with that. He wanted nothing more than his little girl to have the freedom of movement that he didn’t have.

Born with Less

Many people in Maya’s family suffer from genetic issues; and neither she nor her father were exempt from this. The two of them suffer from congenital amputation, which means they were both born without lower limbs; which made life more difficult. When Maya was younger, she found her way around by crawling; but after having a failed surgery which reduced the length of her stubs even further, that movement was restricted. This is when her father got creative and gathered some supplies to help her out. Once a month, he changed the plastic tubes, and once a week, the tuna cans; as each had become very worn.

The Media

Pictures were captured of Maya attempting to get around, and it wasn’t long before the images went viral and the entire world felt a bout of sympathy for her. Many people sent encouraging messages to her, and some even offered to donate money so that she could get proper prosthetic limbs. As her story circulated, Maya’s father could only hope for a miracle. All he ever wanted was for her to get the full experience of being a child and be able to walk and run alongside her friends. He didn’t want to see his little girl suffer any longer.

Airlifted Away

Maya and her father were evacuated from their home nation of Syria by the authorities in Turkey. They were brought to the city of Istanbul for their treatment. The family had been living in the Aleppo countryside in the south but had to uproot and move to Idlib as conflict broke out in their home region. Maya was used to crawling, but having surgery meant that even that method of getting around was limited.

Path to Recovery

Maya’s father, Mohammed, who shares the same disability as his daughter, did all he could to aid her mobility. However, tin cans are very limiting and he felt his prayers were answered when a doctor offered to help Maya. This was going to open up a whole new door for Maya and her family.

Hope in A Hopeless Situation

Doctor Culcu, a Turkish surgeon had heard about Maya’s story as it circulated, and he sympathised with her, becoming very touched. He offered to perform the operation and give her the prosthetic legs she needs; and when people heard about this, they offered to donate to his cause. Culcu, however, refused to accept any donations, and said he would take responsibility for the costs himself, and take care of the surgery. He also offered to operate on her father’s legs too.

Meeting Maya

The doctor was astonished when he saw the construction meant to help Maya walk; it was clearly a making of desperation. But although he couldn’t necessarily classify the makeshift stubs as prosthetics, he did comment that the fact that she had been using them meant that it would be easier for her to transition into her new legs; as the constructed ones helped her get used to a two-week process in a single day.

New Legs and New Challenges

Although Maya became very enthusiastic about getting new legs, Culcu predicted it would take up to three months to get fully fitted with her prosthetics. Within an hour of first getting them, she grimaced in pain, as she wasn’t used to them, but the doctor expected this, and effort was made to adjust them. Once Maya was used to the trial limbs, Culcu said that in time, they would be tinkered with to include both a knee joint, and an extension to make them longer.

Learning A New Skill

Maya will continue to learn to walk in good time, and will be given the use of a walker. Even though it is painful for her right now, she will get better with it over time. Practice makes perfect, as the old saying goes.

Cool New Kicks

Perhaps one thing Maya will really enjoy as a person with legs, is the ability to wear cool sneakers. Maya is seen here wearing her new pink and purple sneakers. They seemed a little too big, but they certainly looked wonderful on Maya, and will serve her well in kicking soccer balls, going for walks, and playing with friends!

The Child Symbol

By having her story circulate around the world through social media, Maya Merhi was able to get the prosthetic legs she needed to be able to live life as normally as any of us, minus the conflict in her country. Because of the interest from many people sympathizing with her condition, she has somewhat become the face of Syria, and the innocence that it is neglecting amongst the war. With this new label as the “child symbol”, humanitarian authorities, and others who follow Maya’s story, can only hope that it helps alert people to the many children just like her who are suffering.

Maya’s Father

Maya’s dad couldn’t be more proud of his little girl than he is now. He’s seen her go through many things she shouldn’t have to face; like abandoning the others in her family for safety, as well as dealing with her genetic condition that left her unable to walk. But through all the struggles she has had to face, Maya has overcome the obstacles more enthusiastically than could be imagined.

The Future Ahead

Although Maya has the prosthetics she needs, there are still issues she needs to face. For one, her mother, and five other siblings, who were lucky enough to not have congenial amputation like their sister and father, are still stuck in Syria. Hopefully, once the civil war is resolved, either the rest of her family can join Maya and her father in Istanbul, or the two of them can return home to see them.

Peace Efforts

Since the Syrian civil war began, many peace efforts have been made; including influence from other counties. In particular, the United Nations has helped the refugees who have fled the war-torn area; and both the U.S. and Russia have attempted to calm the area. Local ceasefires have been organized in the later years of the war, and some areas have settled; no longer physically battling for their beliefs.