In the middle of the sea, a father and a four-year-old girl huddle together on a small boat that won’t stop letting water in. A father, who doesn’t give up even though his world, his family, and the doctors seem to have abandoned him to his fate: Kadija, the little one, won’t survive, forget it, the voices tell him. On this small boat, he feels her pulse for three long hours, making sure she’s still alive: little heartbeats bearing testimony of a journey from Algeria to Spain.

Travelling against the current towards hope

My name is Khelifa; I am 40 years old and I am Algerian, from the city of Saida. My life has been full of unimaginable challenges. In April 2023, I was forced to embark on a journey to Spain with my little daughter Khadija, who was just 4 years old at the time and who had been born with two rare diseases. Doctors had given her very little time to live, but I was not willing to give up.

My childhood was extremely difficult. At the age of 12, my parents abandoned me and I was forced to start working. Despite it all, I got married and was blessed with two children. But when my wife was four months pregnant, we were given the devastating news that our future daughter had serious health problems and might not survive childbirth. We were crushed, but my love for my daughter knew no limits.

On August 2, 2017, Khadija came into the world, but the doctors were pessimistic about her future. I left my café, my own business and source of income, to care for her. My own family advised me to leave her in the hospital and let her die, but that was something I could never accept. I felt like the whole world was abandoning me, but that only gave me more strength to make a promise: I would never leave her.

An odyssey in search of medical help for my daughter began. I travelled to hospitals all over Algeria seeking answers, but Khadija’s illness was so rare that even the doctors had never heard of it. Finally, after sending blood samples to a hospital in France six times, we got a diagnosis: Khadija had Turner Syndrome. We now had a name for the disease and my faith told me to keep going.

At the age of four, Khadija began to show new symptoms, another unknown neurological disease. Suddenly she couldn’t move her legs and walk anymore, and her suffering became unbearable. 

I travelled to even more hospitals in Algeria in search of answers, one was over 700 kilometres from my city. Tests and analyses were sent to France for help, but we got no results. Khadija spent two years crying day and night, and our suffering seemed never-ending.

The darkest day of my life came when I found myself in a hospital with my daughter, without proper medical care, medication, or food. The treatment from professionals was inhumane, and I was tempted to end my own life. But at that moment, something stopped me. I remembered the promise I made to Khadija, the promise to never give up.

I reached a point where I had no choice but to emigrate to Spain, risking our lives on the dangerous “death rafts”. I asked for help through social media, and soon an Algerian television channel contacted me. The solidarity I experienced was overwhelming, especially considering that my own family had not supported me in this desperate struggle.

Our journey from Algeria to Spain was draining. In our first attempt, the police detained us, and we were held for three days. However, I didn’t give up. I asked for help from the Algerian people through social media again, and their generosity allowed me to make a second attempt.

On a flimsy boat, with Khadija, for three long hours, I kept taking her pulse to check she was still alive. Finally, we arrived in Spain. I had only heard about Spain through stories of solidarity, humanity, and equality. What I found here exceeded my expectations. We received immense and generous hospitality, and we were soon referred to the Vincentian Family in Seville, where Khadija finally found the peace and medical care she so desperately needed.

I thank God for placing Khadija in my path and all the people who have helped us overcome countless obstacles. Our story is a testament to resilience, unconditional love, and the capacity of humanity to overcome adversity.