Healing an Iraqi child’s arm and mind


Twelve-year-old Sawsan and her family live in Khazer, one of Iraq’s largest camps for displaced people. They've been displaced from home since January 2017.

“When the fighting started in our neighborhood, we immediately fled Mosul,” explains Younes, Sawsan’s father. “We had almost reached safety when we were caught in an attack. My wife, two of my children and my mother-in-law were hit by shrapnel. We were rushed to the nearest hospital. The doctors told me that Sawsan had suffered a fracture in her arm, her little brother needed an operation on his head, and my wife, who was pregnant at the time, had lost our baby.”

Sitting on one of the beds donated by Handicap International, Hanan finds it hard to hold back her tears. The day she had her miscarriage was also the day her daughter changed out of all recognition. “Sawsan hasn’t been the same since the accident,” she explains. “She’s completely traumatized. She constantly wipes her body with water and she can’t stand being touched. She gets really frightened whenever anyone raises their voice and she doesn’t want to interact with children her age. Her arm will mend, but we’re worried about her mental health now.”

Lying in the corner of the tent, Sawsan appears to be lost in her thoughts. Staring blankly, she passes a wet handkerchief over her face. To distract her, Nader, a Handicap International physical therapist, initiates some rehabilitation exercises with her.

“Handicap International is the only organization that has offered to help us since we arrived in the camp," says Younes, Sawsan’s father. "I’m so glad you’re here to care for my daughter.”

Handicap International's psychologist, Mohammad, explains how they'll help: “We provide her with physical therapy but we also assist her with psychological support. When she has finished her rehabilitation exercises I’ll get her to do some drawings. When she’s busy she forgets her fear for a moment. I can already see she’s made progress since our last session.”

The two years the family spent in Mosul, under the control of the Islamic State group, has had a big impact on their mental health, Younes says. “People were executed in the street, in front of us. We were all very frightened and my children didn’t sleep much.

“I still think about our lives before," he says, looking at Sawsan. "She was so happy. Now, all I want is for my daughter to feel well again.”

Sawsan’s physical therapy session comes to an end, and her face lights up with a smile for a few seconds. “She needs time to forget because she’s very traumatized, but she is already on the road to recovery,” says Mohammad. As his physical therapist colleague hands out mobility aids to Sawsan’s mother and grandmother, the psychologist begins drawing with the little girl. Thousands of children like Sawsan need appropriate psychological support to help them recover from the traumas they have suffered.