It’s monsoon season in the Kutupalong refugee camp in southern Bangladesh. The ground is muddy and slippery. Seven-year-old Saiful steps cautiously along the path to school. “I’m afraid of falling with my artificial leg,” he says, surrounded by his school friends. Saiful and his family live in the Rohingya registered refugee camp in Kutupalong, Bangladesh. At age two, he lost his left leg due to a congenital malformation. With support from HI, he has been fitted with an artificial leg and can now walk and attend school.
Searching for safety
Like hundreds of thousands of other Rohingya families, Noor Nahar and her husband, Mohammed Alom, left Myanmar in search of safety. After a long journey by boat and bus, Saiful’s parents arrived in Dhecua Palong camp before moving to Kutupalong refugee camp in 1993. They settled down, and their family gradually grew. Their sixth child, Saiful, was born in 2009.
“His right foot was deformed and turned inward,” his mother explains. “It got worse and became infected. They said it was osteomyelitis, inflammation of the bone marrow and bone. The doctors told us several times that it needed to be amputated. We just couldn’t imagine doing that.”
Over the course of two years, Saiful visited hospitals in the region on more than ten occasions. Visit after visit, the advice was always the same: Saiful needed an amputation. His parents resisted and refused to authorize the operation. Saiful would keep his leg.
Saiful had to take antibiotics on a regular basis. Then one morning, he woke up and couldn’t move his legs or blink his eyes. He was rushed to Cox’s Bazar Hospital where he had his right leg amputated. “We were miserable and felt demoralized. Saiful did too. He became isolated, and didn’t want to go out for fear he would fell. And us, we were exhausted.”
First steps with a new leg
In 2013, HI physical therapists met Saiful in the refugee camp. “He was shy and wasn’t moving around much,” explains Bayzed Hossain, HI’s disability officer in Bangladesh. “We’re working to ensure he attends rehabilitation sessions and does exercises to restore his flexibility and to firm up his limbs. We’ve also set up parallel bars close to his home so he can get regular exercise. And we’re training his parents to conduct physical therapy exercises between sessions. But most important of all, in 2015, at age six, Saiful got his first artificial leg and took his first steps.”
“We’d given up hope,” his father explains. “We thought Saiful would never walk again. His artificial leg changed everything. Our boy is now learning to walk and going to school. He made friends and he’s more confident now.”
In the classroom
It’s June 2016 and Saiful, 7, is writing on the blackboard. “Saiful is cheerful and fits in well,” his teacher explains. “He’s supported by a group of children who go around with him. We’ve made a few adjustments to make him more comfortable. HI trained us on how to include children with disabilities in the classroom as best as we can.”
Saiful also takes part in the sport and leisure activities organized by HI, which brings together more than 800 children with and without disabilities. “Khelain arto besi gom lage” – “I love to play!,” says Saiful.
Ongoing rehabilitation care
Today, with support from HI, Saiful is more autonomous, better integrated, and attends school. His confidence has grown, but his situation is still complicated. “Saiful needs to improve his balance as he recently fell and burned himself,” Bayzed Hossain says. “He needs to firm up his limbs and become more flexible. And he’ll need a new artificial leg next year, as he continues to grow.”
"HI’s support is vital to us,” his mother adds. “But life in the refugee camp is tough. We have seven children and we live in a single room. There’s no privacy. It’s hard to access water and sanitary facilities, and hygiene is very bad. There’s mud everywhere in the monsoon season, and the heat is unbearable in the dry season. No one works here and not all of the children go to school. It’s awful not knowing what the future holds. The only thing we want is to finally feel at home, somewhere.”
Saiful returns home from school for the day. He’s getting ready to meet up with his friends to play marbles. Before he says goodbye, our team asks him what he’d like to do when he’s older. Saiful responds without missing a beat: “Ai dorwayrea asmane urium” – “When I grow up I’m going to fly!”