After A Child Refugee Was Seen Studying In The Trash, Officials Stepped In To Transform Her Life

When a passer-by saw Syrian refugee Halime Cuma reading a book while sitting on a bag of trash, they made a quick video. Little did they imagine that the footage would go viral and spur the Turkish education ministry into action.

Since 2011, conflict has torn the country of Syria apart. The civil war has seen the government and its supporters struggle against many enemies, who in some cases also fought each other. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that as many as 522,000 people have died in the brutal war, and many millions have been displaced.

More than five-and-a-half million Syrians have been forced by the war to flee the country and become refugees. Many of these people have looked for safe harbor in Turkey, which neighbors Syria to the north.

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Remarkably, Turkey is now home to in excess of three million Syrian refugees. And that number rises by about a thousand each day, whether they are newcomers to the country or babies born there.

Relatively few of the refugees have to live in a camp, perhaps only one in 14. So, Syrians can live, and importantly also work, in Turkey. Indeed, Istanbul, the country’s largest city, provides a haven for around 560,000 Syrians.

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Despite these huge numbers, Turkey is working hard to help refugees at both a national and a local level. Towns and cities, including Istanbul, have run programs to aid integration, while the government has opened up education to kids.

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One of those refugees is Halime Cuma, who was spotted taking a break from the daily grind. But Halime is no ordinary worker. No, she is a child of 11, and you might imagine that she ought to have been in class, rather than rooting around in Istanbul’s garbage.

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The Cuma family arrived in Turkey in 2017, having been compelled to leave Syria. They have made their new home in the Arnavutköy area of Istanbul. This multicultural district sits on the western side of the city, lying alongside the Bosphorus.

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Along with Halime, her dad, Abdülrezzak, has another six children to look after. To achieve that, he collects waste paper to recycle with his daughter’s help. She explained to Demirören News Agency that she had to work to help the family survive.

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Halime said, “I love my father, mother and siblings. [But] there is no other person except my father in our house who is working.” And the little girl is not alone – many child refugees have to work. Some toil for as long as 12 hours a day, ignoring the fact that child labor is illegal.

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The International Labor Organization says that in excess of one in three working children do not go to school. With that in mind, Turkey is leading the fight against kids working, declaring that 2018 would be the “year of the battle against child labor.”

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Be that as it may, Halime had presumably been hard at work when she was seen sitting on a heap of trash in a bag. Ignoring her ugly surroundings, she seemed to anyone passing by to be engrossed in a book during a break.

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Although Halime is only a small child and possibly quite unobtrusive, a passer-by noticed her. They then whipped out a phone or camera. Consequently, they filmed the little girl as she sat reading and seemingly taking notes in the book that she held in her hands.

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In the footage, which lasts for only a few seconds, Halime is deeply engaged in her study. Her head is bent over her work, and it seems that she is oblivious to her surroundings. That’s despite sitting right next to a dumpster that is full to overflowing.

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Next, the bystander who shot the footage decided that they needed to share it on social media. So, they put it online, perhaps not quite expecting the outcome. Because it seems that those few seconds of film made quite an impression on the people who saw it.

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According to website Right This Minute, the video went “crazy viral,” spreading throughout Turkish media. People didn’t just show outrage though – they also supported Halime’s dedication to her study. And it wasn’t long before the country’s education department took action to quell the rising storm.

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The Education Ministry, in fact, got straight to work, getting in touch with Halime’s dad. It pledged to pay for her to attend school. It turns out that the 11-year-old’s lack of education was entirely accidental. A clerical mistake meant that she had not been listed as being the right age for school.

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Zehra Zumrut Selçuk, Turkey’s Family Minister, said, “It will be ensured that children of school age will be enrolled.” And with that, Halime indeed did start going to school. Further video shows her in class, finally able to learn in the right setting.

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But what does the little girl herself think about this stroke of good fortune? Halime told Demirören News Agency, “I am so happy I will be closer to books at school.” And she wasn’t alone in feeling glad about the change in her circumstances.

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Abdülrezzak shared his thoughts with local media. The father-of-seven said, “Halime started her new school today and I am over the moon. Now she will be able to progress in life.” And his hopes didn’t end there. He continued, “Next, I hope all our children will have access to public education.”

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