Jordan: healing visible and invisible wounds one day at a time

The six-year-old Syrian crisis has torn the country apart, and caused population displacement on a previously unprecedented scale. More than 4.8 million Syrians fled the country to live in neighboring countries, including some 638,000 registered in Jordan. Since 2012, Handicap International teams, with support from the European Commission (ECHO), have been assisting refugees in communities and camps. Staff members Nowar, Ansam, Noor, and Amer have focused their work on the refugees. Here is their story.

It's a Sunday morning in spring, the first day of the work week in Jordan and Nowar is setting out to work. This young Jordanian occupational therapist works in the Azraq camp, where she provides assistance to Syrian refugees. Over the past two years of her work, her discussions with refugees, and the occupational therapy sessions she provides have given her better insight into their daily lives and hopes, and convinced her of the vital importance of Handicap International’s actions.

“I feel privileged to work in the camps," Nowar says. "It’s not an easy job: you hear some terrible stories, and we are under a lot of pressure. Sometimes it’s hard to handle it all, from one day to the next. But when I think about why I do it, those things don’t matter anymore. Seeing the happiness in the eyes of the refugees after one of my sessions is enough to remind me of how much I love my work.”

Since the start of the Syrian crisis, Nowar and her colleagues have helped more than 150,000 people in Jordan to heal from both their visible and the invisible wounds. “Everyone has their own story to tell, but some are impossible to forget," she says. "One mother, who had a hand injury, was able to cook for her children again after a few sessions. It was so simple, and it might seem trivial, but for her, being able to cook for her family again made a big difference. She cried with joy on that day. It was so moving. I realized how my work can change the lives of these refugees.”

Ansam, a physical therapist, agrees. Like Nowar, she has no doubts about how important the organization’s work is. “Working with people who have war injuries, who have left everything behind to find safety, has changed how I see my own life. Our work is really about people. We don’t just help people regain their mobility. We show them that we’re there to help them through this difficult time, and that we are not going to forget them.”

More than 25,000 people have grown stronger, or more mobile through rehabilitation care in Jordan from Nowar, Ansam and their colleagues. In addition to the physical and occupational therapy services it provides, Handicap International also organizes psychosocial support sessions and distributes mobility aids to refugees, including wheelchairs, walking frames, and more. The organization fits the injured, and amputees with prosthetic limbs and orthotic braces as well.

Another physical therapist called Noor chimes in: “One of my greatest memories was the day I saw one refugees I was helping get up from his wheelchair. I will never forget that.” Amer, a physical therapist specialized in prosthetics and orthotics, has worked for the organization since it launched its emergency response to the Syrian crisis. After four years of assisting refugees, his first impressions are still the strongest: “I’ll never forget the first time I arrived in the Za’atari camp, and all of these people came towards us, even though we were still in the car. I wondered how it was possible for so many people to be affected at the same time. That’s the moment I realized the scale of the Syrian conflict."

In the ensuing years, Handicap International specialists have continued to provide refugees with as much help as they can. “The organization plays a key role in helping the most vulnerable people,” says Amer. “When people regain their independence and can move around, it opens up a lot of possibilities again. That’s what drives me.”