Small Joys Amid the Syrian Crisis

In January 2013, Abeer Ameen, 23, joined Handicap International’s emergency mission as a physical therapist in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. She sent this update in August:

“We are caring for Syrian refugees, so I deal with complex cases. The injured often have multiple injuries, complex bullet fractures and even amputations. And very often, because they were treated in poor conditions, they only received emergency care, which aims to prevent the worst, but is insufficient to allow proper healing.

“Without a doubt, working in an emergency situation is a powerful experience for a young physical therapist; it forces me to be very creative and to adapt. I only use my hands and other physiotherapy techniques—we don’t have equipment like you sometimes find in hospitals.

“Almost all of the Syrian refugees assisted by Handicap International—the most vulnerable and isolated—have not seen a doctor before meeting me. So I try to answer all of their questions in order to help them understand what they have and how they can improve their condition. I spend a lot of time listening to my patients, caring for them: they need a lot of attention. I hadn’t experienced anything like that before in my work. This is a new aspect for me, but it’s just as important as physical rehabilitation. If patients feel better about themselves, it makes a big difference to their physical recovery.

“When I started my mission, I was very affected by what I saw, by the psychological distress of the refugees, their squalor, and I was frustrated by a sense of powerlessness. Fortunately, Handicap International provides us with support, and helps build our strength and enables us to continue assisting refugees.

“We start the day at 8:30 a.m., with a meeting with the rest of the team, (including) social workers and psychologists. We share our experiences from the previous day and learn from each other. Then I meet six to eight patients, and spend between 45 minutes and one hour with them, sometimes more depending on the circumstances and if the person needs to talk. I return to the office in the late afternoon. I spend about another hour filling out medical records.

“The pace is intense, but I feel I have learned more in six months with Handicap International than if I had worked for ten years in a clinic. When a patient regains some of their autonomy as a result of my work—whereas before he couldn’t even get out of bed—it fills me with joy and pride!”

Before joining Handicap International’s emergency mission, Abeer worked as an in-home physical therapist in and around the village of Majadal Anjar, in East Lebanon.

Photo: Abeer gives Faraj, 16, a physical therapy session. Faraj was wounded in Syria during a bombardment.