Salee Allawe smiled shyly Sunday as her father pushed her wheelchair into the baggage claim at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport.
The 9-year-old Iraqi girl had finally made it to Greenville to get the medical treatment she needs, about nine months after losing her legs in a U.S. air strike, volunteers say.
A crowd of about 25 greeted her with cheers and a giant sign that said “Welcome Salee” in Arabic and English. One of the greeters, Haifa Abdulhadi, knelt next to Allawe and translated her softly spoken response.
“She says she’s very, very happy to be here,” Abdulhadi said.
Upstate Coalition of Compassion partnered with No More Victims to bring Allawe and her father, Hussein, to Greenville.
Her first appointment is Monday at Shriners Hospital for Children.
It’s been a long journey.
Allawe’s family was living in Baghdad, where militias roam the streets, when their neighbors told them their safety could no longer be guaranteed, said Cole Miller, the founding director of No More Victims.
They moved about 40 miles to Hasswa, Miller said. About three days after their arrival, she was struck in a U.S. air attack while playing outside her home, he said.
Her 8-year-old brother died, Miller said.
The family moved to Fallujah to seek medical treatment, he said. Their neighbors there were killed, Miller said.
No More Victims helped Allawe and her father move to Syria and later to Amman, Jordan, Miller said.
With the help Allawe expects to receive in Greenville, she may be able to walk again, he said. She’s already able to brace herself against a wall and walk on the stumps, Miller said.
“She’s an amazingly athletic and cheerful child,” he said.
In Greenville, Allawe will receive prosthetic legs, said Lisa Hall, a member of Upstate Coalition of Compassion. It could take up to six months, she said.
The group, which formed about a year ago, helped rally community support to bring Allawe to the Upstate, Hall said.
New Generation skate park raised money with “Skate for Salee,” she said. Anderson 1 school district brought in about $1,000 by asking each student to donate $1.
“We just knew that we wanted to help a war-injured child,” said member Selena Frank.
Frank, Hall and another instrumental coalition member, Ann Cothran, ran to Allawe as soon as she made it out of the terminal. They showered her with handshakes and four Muslim versions of the Barbie doll.
Allawe took it all in with her big, brown eyes. Her father stood close by. She often reached for him with hands decorated in pink fingernail polish.
More gifts from other volunteers waited in the baggage claim: balloons, teddy bears and a green glow-in-the-dark T-shirt that says, “South Carolina.”
Cothran said that before Sunday she’d known Allawe only through phone conversations. Allawe and her father, who will be staying at a Ronald McDonald House, know limited English, she said.
“We’ve heard ‘hello,’ ‘how are you’ and ‘thank you’ and a lot of laughter,” Cothran said.
Abdulhadi said Allawe told her she was tired but appreciative and wanted to call her mother to let her know she was OK.
“She will never forget this experience,” Abdulhadi said.