ATLANTA - We'am Al Astal may be 6,500 miles from her home in Gaza, but the 12-year old seems right at home with her Atlanta host family, drawing pictures and reading stories. Lina Shehadeh, We'am's host mother, says you'd never know from looking at her, how much We'am has endured in the last 3 years.
"She keeps a permanent smile on her face," Lina Shehadeh says. "She's very easygoing, very loving. Very well behaved, and I'm so lucky to have her in my family."
Speaking through a translator, We'am says she remembers the day that changed her life, July 21st, 2014 very clearly. She was 9, running an errand with her dad.
"My dad had bought a new television set, and while we were on our way home, while I was walking, I was struck by an airstrike," she says. "And, it was me and my dad and my four cousins."
The explosion injured We'am's left leg so shattered, it had to be amputated.
Her right leg was injured, too. But, she's made peace with being an amputee,
"It's what God wanted," Al Astal says. "It's what he meant for me to happen."
"When I see her walking, it just breaks my heart," her host mother Lina Shehadeh says.
That's because the very basic prosthetic leg We'am was given back in Gaza hasn't been easy to use, especially for a child.
"It's not very functional; it's very long," Shehadedh says. "I feel it's very uncomfortable and very heavy to walk with." We'am Al Astal agrees.
That's why the Palestine Children's Relief Fund teamed up with Childspring International to bring We'am Al Astal to Georgia. idad Abdulhadi-Saad, President of the PCRF's Atlanta chapter, says their goal is to help children in places like Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon get the specialized medical care they need, but cannot get back at home.
"Children everywhere are the same,” Abdulhadi-Saad says. “They just want to live a happy, healthy life, and that's what they deserve. And that's what we focus on. We try to heal them so that they can live that life."
Georgia Prosthetics has volunteered to create a new artificial leg for We'am, at no cost to her family.
"I'm very happy to be able to put on a prosthetic leg,” she says."It's going to change her life honestly,” says her host mother. “She told me that her cousins and her siblings can go out on the street and play, and she stays in her room because she can't do what they can do. And now, with the new leg, she's going to be able to run, she's going to be able to walk, she's going to be able to do everything the other kids can do."
It will take a few weeks to build and fit We'am's new prosthesis. But already, a change."She's walking straight, she's walking with confidence,” Lina Shehadeh says.
“When we left there, she told me, 'I think today is the happiest day.'"
The hope is We'am Al Astal will leave Georgia not just happy, but feeling whole again.
"I'm very excited and I can't wait for it to finish, just so I can see the joy in her face, and in her parents as well."