A year and a half ago, Naif decided to flee his home in Sinjar, Iraq, to protect his wife and five children. “The men heard a rumor that we were under threat, and our villages were being taken one after the other. So we decided to protect our families,” says Naif. “I didn’t think about it. I took my wife and children, and we fled to the mountains.”
The family hid in the mountains for ten days before taking refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan. After living in a school for three months, the family was transferred to Chamiskho camp. “It’s much more comfortable here than in the school. There were four or five families in each classroom. No one had any privacy,” says Amira, Naif’s wife.
A Dangerous Encounter
Last April, Naif’s son Salah, 13, seriously injured his left hand while playing with an unexploded anti-aircraft missile left near the camp, which is located next to an old military base.
“I was out with my friends and brother when I found an old missile and starting looking at it more closely,” says Salah. “I told him to throw it away and not to touch it because it was dangerous,” interrupts his younger brother. “But I was too curious,” says Salah. “I refused to put it down and started hitting it with a stone. Then it exploded.”
An ambulance driver in the camp heard his screams and ran straight to the spot, closely followed by Naif: “The children were nearby. I could hear them playing. Suddenly, I heard screaming. I knew that something terrible had happened, so I ran out of the tent to where they were.”
Salah was immediately transported to hospital in the nearest town, where he stayed for seven days. After several operations, his hand was saved: “At first they said I’d need to have my hand amputated. But in the end, they were able to save it,” says Salah, looking at his left hand.
After his accident, Handicap International’s teams provided Salah with assistance for five months, treating his injury and providing him with physical and functional rehabilitation. “Salah had a complex injury and he got gangrene, which was very painful,” says Lucia Bernhard, Handicap International’s technical rehabilitation adviser. “But he’s young, so his tissue healed quite quickly."
Over the first few weeks, the organization’s teams visited the young patient every other day. “Our teams took charge of Salah, cleaned his injuries and changed his bandages. They also taught his parents how to do it,” says Lucia.
Once his wounds had healed, the physical therapy sessions could begin. “We did a lot of movement exercises with Salah. We wanted him to continue moving his left arm. Then we got him to move his hand again. We used our last visits to focus on doing everyday activities with his injured hand, like opening a bottle of water or grabbing objects,” says Lucia.
“These visits really helped my son,” says Naif. “He was really happy when Handicap International’s teams arrived. And the rehabilitation was really effective. His well-being is partly down to your work. He plays with his friends again now, and he can go back to school.”
Psychological Support and Explosive Remnants of War Education
In addition to his rehabilitation sessions, Salah also benefited from psychological support. He took part in several group sessions: “It was great. I loved some of the activities. Especially painting. And I also made friends and I still play with them now.”
During these sessions, the teams responsible for providing risk education on explosive weapons and other improvised explosive devices taught the children to recognize the dangers: “I remember a session when they showed us the different types of mines,” says Salah. “It was really interesting,” he says. In addition, the teams visited Salah’s parents, brothers, and sisters in their home, to help the family learn more about these weapons.
After months of exil, Naif and his family hope to return home in the next few weeks, now that fighting has ended in many villages in Sinjar. However, they are aware that rebuilding their village and lives will take time and that they need to be patient before they can return. “We need to wait until the villages have been cleared of mines and other explosives because there was a lot of fighting in Sinjar,” says Naif. “And our home was destroyed. We’ve got to rebuild everything, start from scratch.”
“I don’t know if I’ll ever see my sister again either,” says Salah’s mother. “She was kidnapped in August 2014. We haven’t heard from her since.”
The family’s greatest hope now is to live in peace, in a region without war or violence. “We all dream of our country being at peace,” says Naif. “Without war, without all of this violence and instability, people won’t have to leave and take refuge elsewhere.”