Cradled in her father’s arms, Rukiya, 6, pulls on her socks and adjusts her small artificial legs. She is concentrating very hard, trying to gain her balance. She is learning how to walk for the very first time. Burn marks on her amputated lower limbs hint at the terrible trauma she experienced when she was just one year old.
"I heard Rukiya screaming, and I saw our house was burning," recalls Abdul, her father. "It was a nightmare. I ran through the flames and just managed to get her out of the house in time. It was almost too late.” The baby was alive, but her lower legs were badly burned.
"The journey to the hospital was never-ending," says Abdul. "We walked for an hour and a half through the mountains, and then another fifty kilometers to the nearest town, Kupwara. We had to travel another four hours to get to the government hospital in Srinagar. The doctors said that Rukiya’s legs had to be amputated. My wife and I were out of our minds with worry.”
For the next four years, Rukiya crawled around on all fours and didn't receive much follow-up treatment. There were no doctors near her village and her parents had very little income to spare.
However, in May 2016, Abdul took his daughter to the hospital in Kupwara. There, physical therapists from Handicap International and its partner organization, Hope Disability Center, identify patients requiring rehabilitation.
"We met Rukiya, and we referred her to Hope Disability Center where we took measurements for artificial legs," says Muddasir Ashraf, Handicap International's disability manager in India. "Our physical therapists worked on the flexibility of her legs and we did a few exercises to make her limbs firmer. We also visited her at home and trained her parents to do rehabilitation exercises with Rukiya so she can continue to grow stronger."
Two weeks after visiting the center, Rukiya got her prosthetic legs and is now learning to use them. A physical therapist visits her at home twice a month to check on her progress and to do rehabilitation exercises with her. In time, she will master walking on her new legs.
At the Hope Disability Center, Rukiya puts on her small boots and, holding onto her father arms, begins to walk forward. With each step forward, a growing smile of triumph spreads across her face.