Jordan: Turning a Father’s Despair to Hope


Mahmoud was attentively watching the news, as he did every day since leaving Syria for work. Since the war began, he, like other Syrians living outside the country, was desperate for any information about the people and places he had left behind. His mother, wife, and six children were still there. 

As the news broadcast video of yet another day filled with violence, he suddenly saw a place he knew: home. This day, the main market in his hometown was billowing with black smoke and there were ambulances all around. Four people were reported dead. But who?

He was not able to reach his wife. Was it his family? Mahmoud hurried back into Syria to find out.

When he arrived, his worst fear was confirmed. His family had been shopping in the market when it was struck by a rocket. Three generations of women in his family were casualties. His mother was dead, and both his wife and young daughter Maryam were seriously injured. Amid the confusion at the scene, his wife and daughter had been taken to different locations. 

First he found 10-year-old Maryam. Her right leg was pulverized and she was going in to surgery to have it amputated. While Maryam was in surgery, Mahmoud went to find his wife.  Her skull was fractured and shrapnel from the blast had lodged in her right eye.

“I was devastated,” said Mahmoud. “I didn’t know who I should feel sadder for, my mother, my wife, or my daughter.”

Eventually, both his wife and daughter left the hospital. His wife was blind in one eye but she was basically able to carry on as before. Maryam could not. Unable to walk, play games, or keep up with her siblings, she grew listless and depressed. Mahmoud watched and despaired as his once bright, outgoing daughter seemed to give up on life.

There was no hope for better medical care in Syria, but there was across the border in Irbid, Jordan. Mahmoud decided that for Maryam, it was worth it to uproot his family and become refugees in Jordan.

Irbid, Jordan

Five months after losing her leg, Maryam is up and dancing at a party celebrating the opening of Handicap International’s new rehabilitation center in Irbid. Other children, some in wheelchairs, some with crutches, and some with fresh bandages on their arms and legs sit and watch.                                 

Suddenly aware that no other kids are dancing, Maryam stops, and rolls up her jeans, revealing a prosthetic leg. The adults clap while the children crane their necks to get a good look while Maryam turns in circles. A limp is noticeable but she is still dancing.  Moments later, a boy in a wheelchair rolls out to join her. Within a few minutes, a hopping, rolling, crutch-swinging circle of children is on the floor.

The next day, Handicap International physiotherapist Saud Shehadeh makes his weekly visit to Maryam and her family. His goal is to help Maryam gain more strength and agility.

“Maryam is progressing quickly; she walks easily now, so we go outside to practice more advanced skills,” says Saud.

Up on the rooftop of their apartment building, Saud hands Maryam a piece of colored chalk and asks her to draw a hopscotch court. Even drawing is good practice for her leg—she must learn to simultaneously focus on doing something with her hands while keeping balanced with her prosthesis and left leg.

Once the court is set, Maryam tosses a pebble and then hops across the court—one foot, two feet, one foot, two feet. She still can’t quite balance on her prosthetic alone, but with Saud and her parents’ encouragement she laughs off her mistakes and tries again. She goes on this way through the other games—hula-hoops to develop better balance, jump rope to work on moving both feet in tandem, and more drawing.

“In Syria, Maryam was treated as a one-time medical patient, but with Handicap International, she is treated like a whole person,” says Mahmoud. “They have done so much to get her to this point and they are still looking out for her. For Maryam this has made all of the difference. I have seen her attitude improve 100%. She says she will be an artist or a teacher when she grows up and I believe she will succeed in whatever she sets her mind to.”

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