At Hasansham camp in Iraq, eleven-year-old Amira lies perfectly still and silent on a mattress, moving only to brush away the flies that buzz erratically above her head. When Handicap International’s physical therapist, Mohammad, arrives for her rehabilitation session, she keeps her eyes firmly shut and refuses to speak to him. It takes a little while for Mohammad to set her mind at ease and gain her trust.
“I meet a lot of children like Amira,” explains Mohammad. “Some are still deeply traumatized by what they’ve been through over the last few years. Others suffer too, but from their injuries alone. They’re frightened that the physical therapy exercises are going to hurt. The first sessions are the most important part of my work because the children need to see me as their ally, someone who’s going to help them recover with time.”
Amira finally opens her eyes, a shy smile crossing her face. Mohammad manages to convince her to do a few movements to assess the seriousness of her condition. Because her leg still hurts, she finds the exercises difficult. “She should have recovered a long time ago,” explains Mohammad. “It doesn’t take that long for a broken leg to heal. But Amira can’t even walk. What made things much worse was the fact that she wasn’t given proper care for so long.”
Amira’s father, Hamid supports her as she stands, trying to walk with the crutches given to her by Handicap International. “It’s only the second time in three months she has stood on two legs,” he says. “Amira’s muscles and tendons are still badly affected,” adds Mohammad. “And her foot is now seriously deformed. But we’re going to carry on with the exercises so she can walk. First, with the crutches and then, at some point, without mobility aids.”
Although Amira was injured in March, she was just given the proper treatment until June, when she reached the camp. “We were at home when we were hit by a missile,” her father says. “One of the walls fell on top of Amira and she was seriously injured. We were taken to Mosul Hospital and stayed there for a few days, but the care was really basic. Then we stayed in the city for three more months. We were under siege and couldn’t escape. We were all living in a small room without food or water, waiting for an opportunity to flee. Imagine living for three months like that.”
At the end of her physical therapy session, Mohammad adds: “I’m also going to ask my psychologist colleague to meet Amira. It’s essential she overcomes her fears and that her family understands why their support is an important part of her recovery.” As Amira sits back down, she turns to Mohammad and asks: “And you, when are you coming to see me again for another session?”
Mosul emergency: Fighting between armed groups and government forces in Iraq in recent years has displaced more than three million people. An estimated 11 million civilians already need humanitarian assistance in the country. The Mosul offensive has presented international organizations with an unprecedented challenge. More than 485,000 people have fled the city since last October.
Handicap International and the Iraqi crisis: More than 200,000 people have benefited from Handicap International’s actions since the launch of its emergency operations in Iraq in 2014. Our actions are regularly reviewed to take into account a highly volatile situation across the whole of Iraqi territory. Handicap International currently organizes population protection activities, raises awareness of the risk from mines and conventional weapons, conducts non-technical surveys and clears potentially hazardous areas, provides physical and functional rehabilitation and psychosocial support, supports health centers, organizes training and advocacy, and provides technical support to partners to enhance the inclusion of vulnerable people (people with disabilities, casualties, older people, and others) within their services.