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Syria's Karate Kid: One Father Dreams Big for His Daughter

Noor Setout is as old as the Syrian civil war and like so many others she has seen and lost too much. One thing that keeps her going is karate.
A Syrian girl's dream : becoming a champion
Noor Setout.Yehya Alrejjo / Anadolu vua Getty Images
/ Source: NBC News

Noor Setout is as old as the Syrian civil war. Like millions of other children that have been driven from their homes by the conflict, she has seen and lost too much.

But she has found a way to escape her difficult day-to-day existence.

“The thing I like most is sports,” Noor told NBC News. And her favorite is karate.

Images of the six-year-old training amid rubble in a Syrian village have been seen around the world.

This renown stands in contrast to what her family has experienced. In December, Noor and her parents left their home in eastern Aleppo as part of a cease-fire that allowed civilians and rebels fighting to unseat President Bashar al-Assad to leave the opposition-held area.

Now their new home is being bombed by pro-government forces, according to the girl's father.

Wassim Setout says he's is in constant fear for their lives.

"I worry I'll lose my daughter or my wife — it isn't safe here," said Setout, a 53-year-old black belt in karate. "I wait to finish my work and run to see them both."

Having once owned their own home in Aleppo, the family now lives in one rented bedroom.

“It is not easy for me to keep life going on,” the gym teacher said. "I swear, I fear death every day."

Noor Setout practices karate with her father.Yehya Alrejjo / Anadolu via Getty Images

Setout said his daughter's martial arts lessons help them both get through these tough times.

“My dream is for Noor to become a champion,” he added.

Setout trains Noor every day, which gives them a way to escape their surroundings.

“It really affected us — the blood, the destruction, the bombings,” he said. “I hope Noor will be a shining candle among all of this devastation.”

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Despite the obstacles outside of his family’s control, Noor is bright-eyed and cheerful.

“I would love to be the world champion,” she declares.

Her father wants Noor, which means “light” in Arabic, to bring hope to other people.

“There are a lot of children like Noor — there are a lot of stars,” he said.

Rima Abdelkader reported from New York. Lawahez Jabari reported from Tel Aviv.