Iraq: Rebuilding her life one step at a time


This morning, Omar, a physical therapist, and Haider, a psychosocial worker, are visiting Widad in Jalawla. Several years ago, this young mother was injured by a car bomb while at the market in Iraq. Her sciatic nerve was damaged and she was immediately taken to the nearest hospital where she was operated on a dozen times. Widad then lost the ability to walk properly. “The head of the village told us about her a few months ago,” explains Omar. “We went to see her straight away and offered her rehabilitation care.” Since then, the organization has helped Widad regain mobility.

Omar begins a series of exercises with her, in the presence of her caretaker and husband, Amer. “In this session, we’re going to strengthen the muscles in Widad’s right leg and show her husband how to do these sorts of exercises when we’re not here,” says the physical therapist. “We have previously given Widad some crutches, a toilet chair, and a bed to make things more comfortable.” 

Omar tells Widad that he has something else that’s really going to help her. He reaches in his bag and pulls out an orthosis and puts it on Widad's leg. “It’s going to change her life,” he says with a smile. The physical therapist then invites the young woman to get up and walk, initially using her crutches. Widad doesn’t look very confident but tries her best. She soon realizes that her orthosis supports her right foot, positioning it correctly on the ground, and she picks up speed. As she walks over the lawn, her face breaks into a grin. “It won’t be long before she can get rid of her crutches,” adds Omar. 

Although she has only taken a few steps, the orthosis is crucial for Widad. A few years ago she found it very difficult to move around. “The hardest part was when we had to flee our city, back in 2014,” she says. “We left at night and in the panic I forgot my crutches. Fortunately we didn’t have to walk the whole way, otherwise I would never have made it.”

Widad and her family took refuge in another city. “There were 27 of us living in a single room for nearly two years. Life was really hard over there,” she says. “Then, last February, we came back to Jalawla. They’d looted our home and broke our windows. The last few years have been really tough for me.”

At the end of her physical therapy session, Widad thanks Omar for his help. “I couldn’t get up before or walk. So it feels like I’ve made a lot of progress. I think I have more options now than I did before. I can walk again, I can support my family. It’s tough in Jalawla and I want to help my husband meet my family’s needs. I can prepare sweets and sell them. I love cooking!” Omar is delighted: “When I see people thinking about the future and moving forward, it reminds me why I do this job,” he says.