Afra, seven, was born with cerebral palsy, a serious neurological disorder that affects muscle coordination. As the situation in Syria grew more perilous, the family fled in January to Lebanon, where Handicap International’s team has been providing her with support.
“My husband died as we were fleeing our neighborhood, which was targeted repeatedly over the years," explains Afra’s mother, Dari. "I decided go on alone with my children to Lebanon." Since she arrived in the Beqaa Valley, Afra has been living in a small apartment with her family, including a younger brother. Every week, the family encourages Afra by accompanying her to her rehabilitation session at the Handicap International center.
Afra is still totally dependent on her mother to do everyday things; she is unable to eat or drink by herself. Handicap International’s work aims to improve her strength and balance, and to make her and her family more independent. “I can see her improving. She can keep her head straight for a few minutes now,” Dari explains proudly.
“Without our help, without physical stimulation, her condition would only get worse,” explains Mohammad, a Handicap International physical therapist. “If she didn’t do these exercises, her limbs and joints would get worse very quickly. Afra will not be able to walk, but we hope that she’ll be able to sit up unaided, one day. Her life and that of her family would be transformed!”
Today, Mohammad is working with Afra on her seated balance using a ball, an exercise that aims at strengthening her back muscles. Afra’s family is taught simple rehabilitation techniques so that she can continue to do her rehabilitation exercises at home.
Afra is not the only one benefiting from Handicap International’s support. Afra's mother recently remarried when she met an old friend, Khalid, who has been living in Lebanon since the start of the conflict. Khalid also takes part in a weekly rehabilitation program. Following an accident on a building site, Khalid is now paraplegic. He has been equipped with a brace and needs crutches to move around. He’s highly motivated and making a lot of progress. However, his disability now prevents him from working in the construction industry, so he earns a living selling cotton candy in the street. This work allows him to earn just enough to meet his family’s needs.
Afra’s parents also benefit from psychosocial support sessions run by the Handicap International team. “Living with a child as dependent as Afra requires a lot of courage and patience, so we give parents the encouragement to build up their self confidence. That’s essential,” explains Mohammad.
Staff also provide Afra and Khalid with assistive devices: a stroller supplied by Handicap International allows Afra to join her mother on outings. “Her world used to be confined to the four walls of our apartment. Now, at the age of seven, every day Afra discovers the world around her. She’s very curious,” explains her mother.
Handicap International’s assistance to Syrian refugees in Lebanon is supported by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection service (ECHO).