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Treating physical and psychological wounds of Syria’s war victims

While she waits for a prosthesis, Arifa, 14, is undergoing physiotherapy treatment with huge courage and enthusiasm. © European Union/ECHO/Meran Anabtawi

Of the nearly two million Syrian refugees living in Turkey, most are struggling to get by in towns and villages outside of the government-run camps. They face difficulties in providing for their families, paying rent and adjusting to their new lives. It is especially hard for people who have been injured during the conflict – many of whom have been left with mobility issues after surgery. The European Commission is supporting home-based physical rehabilitation services to many of these people, including young children, whose lives have changed forever. Our colleague Meran Anabtawi met some of the families receiving EU support.

Meran Anabtawi, Information and Communications Assistant for the Middle East, ECHO @ECHO_MiddleEast

At the age of just fourteen, Arifa’s world changed forever when she was badly injured during bombings that destroyed her family’s home in Aleppo, Syria, three years ago.

Because of the extent of her injuries, she was taken by ambulance to Turkey to get medical help. Her father, Abdurrahman, a coppersmith, could only follow two days later. He had to bury his two youngest children who died in the attack and get medical treatment for his wife, who was also injured.

Arifa spent a total of three months in hospital, and she underwent four operations, including the amputation of her right leg.

Arifa now lives in Gaziantep, south-eastern Turkey. For three months now, she has been visited by a mobile health team, including a physiotherapist and rehabilitation worker supported by the European Commission.

She’s lively and shows us how adept she has become using crutches to climb up and down some outside steps in the courtyard.

Arifa is waiting for a prosthesis, but first she has to undergo yet another operation.

I was very scared, helpless,” said Arifa, recalling when she first arrived to Turkey. “I could not move at all or bend my knee before. But now, I feel stronger and a lot happier. Before, I couldn’t go anywhere, but now I can move around with my crutches,” she said.                         

Health workers give Arifa exercises to improve mobility and strength.

“They gave me hope. I get stronger every day. I really want to have a prosthesis now and go to school again. I used to play a lot of games. I want to play again.” - Arifa.

Her father, Abdurrahman, watches with pride as Arifa responds to her physiotherapy treatment without complaining. “Times have been tough," he said "and it is difficult to find work”. When the family first arrived in Turkey, he said, they lived in the open air in a park. But, he said, his optimism grows as he sees his daughter’s daily progress. “My hope is my daughter.

A mobile health team visit Bushra, 13, at home twice a week. She will soon receive an electric wheelchair. © European Union/ECHO/Meran Anabtawi

With the mobile health team I go and visit another teenager whose life was blighted by the conflict. In February, Bushra, 13, watched her father being shot dead in front of her. She herself was hit by a sniper’s bullet, which caused a spinal cord injury leaving her paralysed.

Bushra was transferred to Kilis, Turkey, where she spent 45 days in intensive care, 25 of which in a coma.

Her mother, Fatima, 41, was taken to another hospital in Gaziantep where she underwent surgery. They were only reunited more than a month later. “We both cried all the time,” said Fatima. “We had never been separated before.

A mobile health team now visit Bushra at home twice a week. “I could not move at all before, but now I can move my hands and my arms, and I can roll in bed," said Bushra, who will soon receive an electric wheelchair. “I dream of healing, I think about it every day. Before my injury, I wanted to become a doctor; maybe I still can be one. I will treat people for free.

The mobile health teams are providing a vital service – resulting in both physical and psychological improvements in the patients they work closely with. They’re also filling an important gap in providing after-care treatment for refugees who have undergone surgery.

Anas, 33, dreams of undergoing the operation, night and day, as he hopes to work and provide his family again, and restore his dignity. © European Union/ECHO/Meran Anabtawi

Anas, 33, a father of four from Aleppo was severely injured during a barrel bombing with shrapnel wounds when he was out to buy some bread.  He underwent a series of operations and was hospitalised for more than a year. 

However, Anas now walks with crutches and sells small items like cigarettes and tea from the front of the lock-up garage he and his family stay in.

His physiotherapist, Mohammed, said he has been amazed by his progress. “I couldn’t believe he would move again. Barrel bombs are the worst and cause enormous suffering because of the shrapnel which can leave complex fractures. We have been working on exercises and functional activities and he is becoming more and more independent.”  

“Before I was hopeless, but hope was restored to my life when I received the treatment, and it felt like I saw the light” - Anas.

Anas is now eargerly awaiting another operation which should allow him to become more mobile. “I want to get back to work…to have dignity and not have to borrow money from relatives or friends,” he said.

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