Little Rayan: The boy in the well who united the Arab world

A memorial service is held for 5 -year-old Rayan, died after being trapped in a well for four days, in Riad district of capital Rabat in Morocco on February 6, 2022.
4 min read
17 February, 2022
Rayan’s passing was a terrible tragedy that filled the world with sorrow. In the Arab world, the plight of Rayan has since galvanised cross-border solidarity and is proof that, despite conflict and unrest, humans lie at the centre of our future.

When little Rayan Aourram, a five-year-old boy from the northern Chefchaouen region in Morocco fell and became trapped in a 32 metre well, the world held its breath. It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to save one.

The Moroccan rescue team worked systematically and tirelessly to get little Rayan out, but when they finally reached him four days later, he was dead. The whole world, specifically the Arab world, had become invested in his story. The pain, the fear, the confusion this little boy must’ve been feeling – it’s difficult not to absorb and experience similar emotions simply from reading about it all.

"Being from a small town in a North African country, and receiving as much international attention as he did, Rayan serves as a miserable but powerful example of how people and the media can and will care about the terrible and untimely death of a child in an Arab country – provided the narrative is presented correctly"

In times of need and tragedy, the Arab world unites. While the Western world spoke about and mourned little Rayan, it was the Arab people that really felt the biggest blow. To see how many people banded together for a small boy in a humble village was inspiring. We weren’t just rooting for Rayan, we were rooting for the countless skilled rescue team members that worked around the clock to try and save him.

Upon learning that the boy didn’t make it, despite the insurmountable efforts put into his retrieval, words of sympathy and love poured from every corner of the MENA region. Several leaders of the Arab world all conveyed their condolences.

A memorial service is held for 5 -year-old Rayan, died after being trapped in a well for four days, in Riad district of capital Rabat in Morocco on February 6, 2022. Hundreds of Moroccans participated the memorial service as they lit candles and left flowers for Rayan.
A memorial service is held in Morocco's capital of Rabat for 5 -year-old Rayan, who died after being trapped in a well for four days, Hundreds of Moroccans participated in the memorial service as they lit candles and left flowers for Rayan [Getty Images]

At the African World Cup, the Egyptian and Senegalese teams had a minute of silence for Rayan before kicking off on Sunday, February 6. Another celebrated football player, Algerian midfielder Ismaël Bennacer, expressed his deep sentiments for the boy’s far-too-early death on Twitter.

“Rayan’s courage will stay in our memories and continue to inspire us. And so too will the devotion of the Moroccan people and of the rescuers. All my thoughts are with his family and loved ones. May Allah grant this little warrior the highest degree of paradise,” the player wrote. Along with the tweet, Bennacer attached a drawing of Rayan being lifted from the deep prison he spent his last days in by a large red, heart-shaped balloon with a green star: the Morocco flag in all its glory. 

Perspectives

Similar images were painted on social media. The message was clear, little Rayan’s death wasn’t just a tragedy for those who knew him personally, the whole region felt his loss. He was more than a young boy, he was a young Moroccan boy. While Western media tends to throw up casualty statistics in the MENA region without including any names and stories, Rayan had his heard.

The hashtag #SaveRayan went viral on Arabic social media platforms.

A quick scroll through the hashtag on Instagram reveals countless drawings, pictures, and messages of grief. Each post, written in English, Arabic, or French, carries so much strength, love, and immeasurable sadness.

"As the rescue team got closer and closer to the small boy who had been left to fend for himself in a cavernous shaft, the world waited, watched, prayed, and tweeted. Must we make all tragedies this marketable?"

While the internet only has a handful of pictures of Rayan, they have become a symbol of innocence and grief. Collages and photo edits of the little boy as an angel and drawings of Rayan stuck in his stone penitentiary or being lifted out of the deep, dark hole all serve the same purpose – to immortalize him.

But Rayan’s heartbreaking death had a secondary effect. Being from a small town in a North African country, and receiving as much international attention as he did, Rayan serves as a miserable but powerful example of how people and the media can and will care about the terrible and untimely death of a child in an Arab country – provided the narrative is presented correctly.

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#SaveRayan is a sad but easily-digestible story. It’s cut and dry and most importantly, it isn’t political. The children of Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan won’t get the same recognition. It isn’t as easy to talk about and mourn the death of an innocent but faceless child in a war-torn country. The media needs a specific story with an already-determined solution, otherwise, it’s too overwhelming to talk about.

So, where do we go from here? After watching how well the Arab world can band together in a time of need, have we proven to ourselves we can unite once more when the opportunity arises?

The lead up to Rayan’s recovery was distressing – but also exciting. As the rescue team got closer and closer to the small boy who had been left to fend for himself in a cavernous shaft, the world waited, watched, prayed, and tweeted. Must we make all tragedies this marketable?

Yasmina Achlim is a Moroccan-American freelance writer who loves good vegan food, living consciously and dressing sustainably