One year ago, the conflict that gripped Gaza during the summer of 2014 was just beginning. Odai Ali, 21, was at home helping on the family cattle farm, as he did most days.
Odai had a difficult childhood. As a baby, he was struck by a fever that left him unable to hear, and affected both his physical and intellectual development. Around the age of four, his condition slowly started to improve and he began to walk.
He started learning sign language at a special school in Gaza. But he didn’t get far—at the age of 10, he developed severe epilepsy. The young boy dropped out of school, and began working on the family farm. He enjoyed the work, and with treatment, his epilepsy improved.
As he grew older, Odai became well-known by many people in the community, and he had an active life.
His father, Abu Abdullah, explains, “Odai greets all the neighbors when he is down in the street, both old and young people. In the area where we live, they are not underestimating people with disabilities. He participates in all activities, in all occasions."
Last July, during the 2014 Gaza-Israel Conflict, tragedy again struck Odai's life. The family's neighborhood was being bombed, due to his hearing impairment, Odai didn’t know that he was in danger.
His father Abu Abdullah describes what happened: “When the bombing happened, Odai was in the yard watering the cows. The explosion flung him 15 feet in the air and he fell back down on the ground. He didn't get up.”
The bombing injured two other farm workers and blew apart the cattle sheds, killing all of the animals.
“We took Odai to the hospital. At first they only saw a head injury and provided him with first aid. But before it was time to go we realized that he couldn’t stand or walk. He was immediately transferred him to intensive care.”
A spinal cord injury had left Odai paralyzed from the waist down and in desperate need of more advanced care. But, with the conflict escalating, it was difficult and dangerous to access health services.
During the conflict, Handicap International’s staff and partners in Gaza sent mobile rehabilitation teams into the community to find and treat people with injuries and disabilities. Odai was visited by Baytouna, one of our local partner organizations in Gaza, which provided him with regular rehabilitation sessions and psychological support. Traumatized by the bombing, Odai didn’t accept treatment at first. However, the physical therapists persisted, working to prevent complications from his injury.
Handicap International also provided Odai with an anti-bedsore mattress, a wound kit, and a wheelchair. There are many things that he needs on a daily basis—medications, antibiotics, diapers, and catheters. Some of these are distributed free of charge by local organizations, but many items are in short supply and it is very expensive for the family to buy them.
As well as his physical injuries, Odai was badly affected psychologically. "Sometimes he refuses to go outside," says Abu. "He is scared when there is thunder and lightning. He can’t tell the difference between that and a bombing. If he is afraid, he curls up and asks us to leave the room. We take him out onto the balcony and show him that it’s just the weather, and then we close the doors and curtains and let him sleep.”
Unable to speak, Odai uses basic sign language to describe the war: pointing with a finger means shooting, opening his hand towards the floor means shelling. His father serves as his interpreter. Outside of the family, Odai’s communication is extremely limited. This makes it very difficult to provide him with psychological support. In general, psychologists in Gaza are not experienced in supporting people with disabilities, and don’t know sign language. In Odai’s case, his support team have found ways to work with him through his family members, but it remains a big challenge.
Fortunetly, Odai receives a great deal of love and support from his family. “Odai is a minister and we are his servants!" says Amna Ali, his grandmother. "We don’t want him to be angry. A lot of the time he feels upset and we don’t want him to be like this so we try anything to satisfy him.”
After the end of the crisis in Gaza, Odai was referred to two other local organizations to ensure his care continued. But he is still a priority case and Handicap International intends to support him further. He is still in need of physical therapy, and his family needs more training to assist him. He has the ability to become more independent, so an occupational therapist has a big role to play in his future.
During six months following the conflict in Gaza in summer 2014, Handicap International and its four local partners organized 28,000 rehabilitation sessions for more than 4,800 people. Nearly 6,400 people were directed towards services adapted to their needs, delivered by other organizations, and more than 2,000 people were given psychological support. Handicap International also distributed 2,500 mobility aids (crutches and wheelchairs) and 4,000 non-food items, such as blankets and hygiene kits to injured and vulnerable people in Gaza.