I’m lucky, I do occasionally get a few minutes to myself; I usually spend it reading.

The other day I read an article written by a photographer, about his work (on behalf of the UNHCR) documenting the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable refugees. It made me cry.

It would have made anyone cry.

But I think I may have sobbed a little harder than most, because one story in particular touched a very tender spot. 

In a makeshift camp in Lebanon the photographer had met two little girls, sisters Iman and Aya who had fled Idlib in Syria when their home, and their father’s business, were destroyed by the bombing.

At the time Iman was ten, and Aya just four.

Aya had Spina Bifida, and as a result was paralysed from the waist down; she also had a curvature of the spine that made sitting upright unaided very difficult.

When their house was bombed they were forced to take shelter in a basement for three days without food or water.

During the whole time Iman cradled and comforted Aya, never once letting go of her.

The photographer expected to find the sisters’ relationship to be characterised by a sort of ethereal devotion and gratitude, but what he found was the typical knockabout relationship that exists between siblings the world over.

Yet, when the family took the decision to flee to Lebanon, a dangerous journey, taking several weeks as it had to be made on foot, it was Iman who carried Aya every step of the way.

There are, no doubt, people who would scrutinise this story through a very critical lens – why didn’t the parents carry her? Why didn’t the other children take a turn (I suspect they were too small).

I suspect also that Iman wouldn’t let them; and that’s what made me cry that little bit harder than most.

In the nightmare pictures my mind conjured as I read I saw the faces of my own children, because I see, in the countless small acts of love and care that occur daily between them, the seeds of this girl’s much more extreme act of devotion.

I expect many of you have seen them too, in your own families, or those of people you know.

It may sound melodramatic to compare the two, but lurking behind the girl carrying her sister for mile after mile, I see the shadow of the girl who ran around tirelessly after her brother on holiday, never more than a few inches from his side; who played with him all day long despite her parents pleading with her to sit down, relax by the pool and let them take a turn.

Because not only did she want them to have a break, but because her brother is so precious to her that she could not bear to take her eyes off him in an unfamiliar place.

Behind the girl clutching her sister in a bombed out cellar, I see the footprint of the little girl sitting very, very still on the sofa, covered from head to foot in vomit, whose only concern was that she should not drop the fragile, squirming baby in her arms - she did not even shut her eyes against the slime dripping down over her brows until mummy came to take him.

It was the most spectacular episode of reflux I have ever seen and must have been the most revolting thing that had ever happened to her.

God forbid that my daughter should ever be forced to go to the extreme that Iman had to go to, but if push came to shove, and we ever found ourselves in desperate circumstances, I know that she would not be found wanting – a mighty oak would spring from those little seeds of selfless love already planted in her soul.  

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