Syrian Refugee, 8, Finds Freedom in a Wheelchair


A smile flashes across Ahmad’s face when Handicap International’s physical therapist, Noor, arrives in his family’s caravan in Azraq, Jordan, a camp for Syrian refugees. Noor sits next to him and asks him how he is doing before they start their session. Ahmad, 8, was born with spina bifida, a condition where the spine does not develop properly, and is unable to walk on his own. Ahmad’s parents move in closer so they can observe the exercises in order to help Ahmad with his rehabilitation in between physical therapy sessions.

“We left Syria a few months ago when we realized the conflict there was unlikely to end,” says Asim, Ahmad’s father. “In Syria, we tried to make sure Ahmad’s life was as normal as possible, despite the war. He had a hospital check-up every six months, and the manager of the factory where I worked gave me a half an hour off at the start and end of the day so I could bring him to and from school. Just next door there was a center for people with disabilities. However, when we arrived here in Jordan, everything changed. It was difficult to see how Ahmad could go to school because we live really far from the camp school and he can’t walk.”

To help Ahmad get around the camp more easily, Handicap International gave him a wheelchair. Noor teaches Ahmad exercises that will make it easier for him to use his wheelchair. Alongside his physical therapy sessions, Ahmad receives occupational therapy, which will help him become more self-reliant. “I’m really looking forward to starting school again,” he says. “With the wheelchair, his dream will soon be a reality,” his mother Khawla adds.

After a few warm-up exercises, Noor asks Ahmad’s parents to bring out the wheelchair: it’s time for him to try it out. Asim worries about his son traversing the rough camp roads in the wheelchair, but he’s happy Ahmad will soon be able to go out and make friends. Ahmad sits in the chair and moves forward slowly.

Once they get outside, Ahmad becomes more confident and goes faster. His parents and younger brother follow him enthusiastically. “There’s no doubt about it—this will change his quality of life—and ours,” says Asim. “It’s going to make things easier for us: We won’t have to carry him everywhere we go. He can move around by himself and become independent. We can visit our relatives in the camp more often, for example, without worrying about how complicated it’s going to be.”

Noor has already noticed a change in Ahmad’s behavior. “During our first session, Ahmad didn’t really believe we could do much for him. He didn’t think a wheelchair could make such a difference. But, he’s much more at one with himself and confident now.”

As the session comes to an end, Ahmad goes back to playing with his younger brother. “They like building houses with pillows and cushions and drawing pictures of the house we lived in back in Syria, with its beautiful garden,” says Khawla. Although their lives in Syria seem far away, Ahmad’s mother and father seem satisfied with small, everyday victories. Their son now has freedom he never had before.