Syria’s seven-year conflict has devastated the country, resulting in unprecedented population movements. More than five million Syrian refugees are living in neighboring countries, including more than one million in Lebanon. Mariam has been working as a physical therapist for Humanity & Inclusion in Lebanon ever since we launched our emergency response in the country. Below, she describes a day in her life supporting refugees.
Over time, Mariam has become accustomed to the human cost of war.
“I’ve seen a lot of people injured in the conflict over the years,” she explains. “What really strikes me is how, in general, they’re just as likely to be affected mentally as they are physically. It’s hard to see people looking so desperate. But I try to do what I can to make their lives easier.”
As winter settles over the Beqaa Valley, Mariam sets out on the same journey she has been making, five days a week, for the last five years. As one of Humanity & Inclusion’s physical therapists, she travels to the homes of Syrian refugees and provides them with rehabilitation care. Her outlook on the humanitarian crisis and her approach to working with refugees has changed over the years.
“I can remember when I started working here,” she says in the car on the way to visiting one of our beneficiaries in their shelter. “People were in dire need. A very high number of them were coming into Lebanon from Syria and there were hundreds, thousands of casualties. It was quite daunting.”
Mariam always knew she wanted to help refugees
“The refugees who need physical therapy care – I could have been one of them. Using my skills to help them just seems the right thing to do. I’m doing what I’d want them to do for me, if the shoe was on the other foot. I’ve come across so many people who have really benefited from our work. And working in the field every day, I’ve seen what a big difference we make to their lives.
Session after session, Mariam’s visits become part of the everyday lives of the organization’s beneficiaries. She’s also seen the situation change over the years.
“Most of the people I visit live in makeshift camps. They might have lived there for years, but their homes are still far from comfortable. They live in very tough conditions, and as the war grinds on, things are getting worse.”
“We’re starting to see different types of injuries and disabilities as well. I deal with a lot of routine injures now because refugees are more likely to live in precarious circumstances. For many people with chronic diseases, their health gets worse too, because they don’t have access to the care they need.”
Access to care is vital
As she arrives at the camp, before starting her first visit of the day, Mariam adds: “Very few organizations in the country offer services like physical therapy. But physical rehabilitation makes a big difference to the lives of conflict-affected people.”
“We absolutely have to do everything we can to help these refugees and to meet their essential needs as long as the conflict lasts and even once it’s over.”
“We left our country when the conflict began,” Hiyam tell HI’s team in Lebanon about fleeing the violence in Syria. “We didn’t want our sons and daughter to grow up with the war. When we arrived in Lebanon, we thought we’d be safe. Then one day, on my husband Talal’s way home, a car came out of nowhere and plowed into him. My daughter was also in the car and she’s still very traumatized by the accident.
They took my husband to the hospital where he spent a month in intensive care. The doctors told us he wouldn’t survive, or if he did, he wouldn’t remember anything. They also said he’d be totally paralyzed for the rest of his life. I remember the first time I visited him in his hospital room. He looked like he was dead. I was devastated.”Read more
This is my first International Day of Persons with Disabilities since getting home from a five-month mission in Beirut, Lebanon, where I helped eight other NGOs make their water points, toilets, and hygiene facilities more inclusive for people with disabilities, older people, and the vulnerable.Read more
When the bombs started falling near 31-year-old Ranim’s home in Syria, she drove her four children to her parents’ home, a few hours away. Her husband stayed behind to get their belongings in order.Read more
"Aya doesn't die"—Giles Duley uncovers the shocking situation of disabled refugees on Unreported World
The U.K.'s Channel 4 produced a must-see, powerful and heart-breaking documentary about disabled refugees who have fled the war in Syria. Watch their program, Unreported World and the stories of "The Invisible People."Read more
Handicap International and the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration renew partnership to provide assistance to refugees in Lebanon
On September 1st, 2016, Handicap International and the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BPRM) renewed their partnership, enabling the humanitarian organization to continue providing assistance to Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
The goal of this new yearlong project in the Beqaa Valley and in Tripoli/Akkar (Lebanon) is to address the essential needs of the most vulnerable Syrian crisis affected persons in the country.
This project includes the delivery of various services such as rehabilitation sessions, distribution of assistive and mobility devices, prosthesis and orthotics, complementary items but also psycho-social support to injured and/or Syrian refugees with disabilities.
An inclusion component, aimed at offering coaching to other humanitarian organizations seeking to improve inclusion and accessibility in their programming, was also incorporated to the project.
Aside from these activities, a key focus is now put on the implementation of partnerships with Lebanese organizations in each broad geographical area of intervention across Lebanon. The goal is for Handicap International to promote local ownership and sustainability of services, in line with the priorities established by the humanitarian community and national authorities.
The successful cooperation between BPRM and Handicap International has already allowed thousands Syrians with physical and functional limitations to attend rehabilitation sessions, to be provided with assistive devices and to have access to psycho-social support in Lebanon. This partnership renewal will guarantee that such services are still made available for Syrian refugees in the country.
Handicap International: Co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Handicap International supports people with disabilities and other vulnerable populations living in conflict and disaster zones and in situations of exclusion and extreme poverty.
The Bureau of Population, Refugees & Migration (BPRM): The Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration provides aid and sustainable solutions for refugees, victims of conflict and stateless people around the world, through repatriation, local integration, and resettlement in the United States.
Handicap International and the Syrian crisis: More than 830,000 people have benefited from Handicap International’s actions since the organization launched its operations in 2012. The organization provides physical rehabilitation services and psychological support, and distributes emergency aid to meet the basic needs of casualties, people with disabilities and particularly vulnerable individuals. Handicap International also issues awareness raising and safety messages targeted at local populations to prevent accidents caused by explosive remnants of war.
On August 31st, 2016, Handicap International and the United States Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) completed a year-long partnership, during which the organization was able to provide assistance to thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, thanks to funding provided by PRM.
Beginning Sept. 1, 2015, Handicap International began implementing a yearlong project in the Beqaa Valley, Lebanon. The goal of this project was to address the essential needs of the most vulnerable Syrian crisis affected persons in the country. This project included the implementation of various services such as rehabilitation sessions, caregivers’ support, and the delivery of assistive devices, prosthetic limbs and orthotic braces to injured and/or Syrian refugees with disabilities.
The results of this cooperation exceeded Handicap International’s expectations. While Handicap International and PRM had planned for 1,250 refugees to benefit from rehabilitation services throughout the year, teams reached almost 1,500 Syrians with physical and functional limitations. Ninety percent of these people showed a measurable improvement in their autonomy, mobility and quality of life. Beneficiaries included people with injuries, temporary impairments and disabilities, older people with functional limitations, and people living with disabling chronic conditions.
Handicap International expected to deliver assistive devices, customized or pre-made orthotic braces and prosthetic limbs to about 600 Syrian refugees throughout the year. Yet by Aug. 31, 2016, more than 900 people had benefited from these services.
Moreover, PRM and Handicap International’s cooperation allowed more than 750 caregivers to improve their capacity to provide quality care to people with physical and functional limitations. When surveyed, 90% of caregivers said they’d noted an improvement in their capacity to provide assistance to their relatives.
Handicap International identified and now supports four local partners in the Beqaa Valley. This operational strategy, which will be reinforced through a follow-up PRM grant, promotes local ownership and sustainability of services, in line with the priorities established by the humanitarian community and national authorities.
These encouraging results convinced PRM and Handicap International of the strength of their partnership and the two entities will start a new project in Lebanon together in September 2016.