Mohammad Rasool is base coordinator for Humanity & Inclusion in Afghanistan, managing our work in the Kandahar and Nimroz provinces. There, our teams are providing rehabilitation and psychosocial support. In this interview, Mohammad describes the situation on the ground.
Q: What is it like living in Afghanistan at the moment?
People are still struggling with poverty, displacement, drought, the risk from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and threat from ISIS. Additionally the country is facing a failing health system and the economy is also on the edge of collapse. So people are highly distressed as they don't know what will happen next in this highly unpredictable situation.
Daily, thousands of people are aiming to leave the country due to protection issues or to seek a better life out of the country. Everywhere in Afghanistan, there is food insecurity and there's a huge need for humanitarian assistance.
Q: What is the level of need for rehabilitation services in Afghanistan?
Even though the conflict is now over, I mean the big conflict between the previous government and the IEA, the battlefields and the districts are still highly contaminated with explosive remnants of war and IEDs. So, of course, the need for physical rehabilitation and risk education, and also for psychosocial support, remains high.
Q: Could you describe how Humanity & Inclusion's teams are supporting people in Afghanistan?
We have several approaches to reach people in need of services, especially rehabilitation, psychosocial support or skill development (which is for income-generating activities).
For instance, we provide support in the rehabilitation center where people are referred to us by other stakeholders including humanitarian partners. And we also have mobile teams. We go to the communities where we deliver the services directly to people. We also refer them for follow-up services to other partners and also to the rehabilitation center if they need further support.
Q: What is the level of injuries at the moment in Afghanistan?
In Kandahar, approximately one-fourth of the people we are seeing in our rehabilitation center are survivors of the conflict. Either they have acquired their injury in the recent conflict in the recent months, or they are the victims of the conflict in the previous years, but they didn't have the opportunity to access the center. We also see people who have injuries from road accidents as well as people who acquired a disability during birth.
Q: Are you able to share the story of a patient that particularly affected you?
I will share one of the story out of a thousand because in our center we are seeing 9,000 patients every year.
One of the people who was referred to us in the recent months was Anisa, an 8-year old girl from Zabul Province (pictured above). A mortar bomb hit her house while she was playing at home with her cousins. She was badly injured and she was taken to several hospitals to treat her.
Unfortunately, her left leg had to be amputated and then she was referred to the rehabilitation center in Kandahar, which is managed by Humanity & Inclusion. Our team at the rehabilitation center worked with her for several weeks to help her recover. She was happy that she could play again with her cousins or go to school.
Q: What are the major challenges you face at the moment?
Certainly, there have been some changes as the new government is not well established yet and the public service remain interrupted. So there are a lot of uncertainties and the new government is trying to introduce new guidelines procedures. Female staff who are working for the public sector, apart from the health sector, are still not able to attend work. We had some challenges related to access for our female staff to our community-based activities. We had a lot of interaction and intensive engagement with new authorities. Finally, we succeeded and access for our female staff was granted.
Q: What do you enjoy the most about your job?
I like visiting my team while they are delivering services to the people we support. I take the opportunity to directly hear from my team and their patients, listening to their feedback, suggestions and challenges that they face in the day to day activities.
Q: Do you have any message for our supporters here in the U.S.?
Of course, I have a message: The people of Afghanistan really need the support from the international community now more than ever. So please, please don't forget Afghanistan in this difficult time.
After more than 30 years of war, humanitarian needs in Afghanistan are immense. Humanity & Inclusion is steadily resuming its activities in four provinces: Herat, Kunduz, Kandahar and Nimroz.
Julio C. Ortiz-Arguedas, Humanity & Inclusion’s Country Director in Afghanistan, shares more information on the organization’s history in the country and how it has been impacted by the recent regime change:
Most of Humanity & Inclusion's activities with people in Afghanistan have resumed after a few days' interruption. Humanitarian needs are immense in a country devastated by decades of conflict and one of the most contaminated by explosive remnants of war and landmines in the world. Today, 80% of the Afghan population has some form of disability due to the presence of mines and explosive remnants of war, armed conflicts and limited access to health and nutrition services.
The rehabilitation center in Kandahar is the major activity of Humanity & Inclusion in Afghanistan. Humanity & Inclusion set up this center in 1996 and has been supporting it since. At the center we have a total of 53 staff working to support people for rehabilitation and psychosocial aid.
We were able to gradually resume activities. Since the Taliban took control of Kandahar on August 13, the rehabilitation center has served 240 men and 180 women, distributed 200 walking aids and fitted 50 beneficiaries with orthotics or prosthetics. These numbers represent a 50% increase over the average in the previous months: the end of the fighting, of the roadblocks and the increased security have allowed more people to access the center.
However, the Kandahar Mobile Team—comprising 15 members—could not yet return to the countryside, so it was deployed in the center and, in that same week, was able to accommodate 117 people.
People are coming every day at the center, sometimes from very far away—we had families who made a one-day trip to come to get treatment—as it is the only rehabilitation center for the south of the country.
Images: A glimpse at daily activities at the Kandahar rehabilitation center, including physical rehabilitation and manufacturing of artificial limbs and braces. Copyright: HI
As the security situation in Afghanistan worsens, the country is also battling its third wave of Covid-19. Humanity & Inclusion has adapted its activities in Afghanistan to continue providing critical care, as well as resources to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Since 2020, more than 144,000 people have been infected with the coronavirus in Afghanistan. And that number could be higher, given that many people do not have access to health centers. Herat, Kabul, Nangarhar, Daikundi and Ghazni appear to be the worst-affected provinces.
Humanity & Inclusion’s Covid-19 response in Afghanistan includes:
Humanity & Inclusion provides the local population, particularly people with disabilities, internally displaced people, and host communities, with information on the risk of infection with Covid-19 and how to protect themselves by social distancing and wearing a mask. These awareness-raising activities are particularly important in a country where rumors and misinformation about the pandemic continue to circulate, such as drinking or washing your face with Coca-Cola or drinking black tea as a cure for Covid-19. Teams have conveyed key messages through radio broadcasts and door-to-door outreach to raise awareness.
Humanity & Inclusion has continued to provide physical therapy to patients in need at the Kandahar rehabilitation center, and its mobile teams have made at-homes visits in camps for internally displaced people, particularly in Herat and Kandahar provinces. In 2020, more than 17,000 people participated in rehabilitation sessions. So far this year, the organization has trained 120 physical therapists.
The pandemic has left many people feeling depressed, with many facing job loss or other challenges exacerbated by Covid-19 and its restrictions. Humanity & Inclusion’s teams provided psychosocial support to people who needed it, and set up a hotline. The organization also distributed “leisure” kits containing items like beads or sewing and knitting equipment, as well as games, puzzles and books children to enjoy. Teams have trained medical center personnel in psychosocial first aid.
Humanity & Inclusion continued to provide psychosocial support to people psychologically affected by the conflict or other traumatic events, including Afghan refugees previously living in Pakistan who have been sent back to Afghanistan. In 2020, Humanity & Inclusion provided psychosocial support to nearly 6,000 people in Afghanistan.
The organization distributed protection and hygiene kits containing soap, hand sanitizer and other items to people unable to afford those products. Humanity & Inclusion plans to distribute 200 kits containing clothes, blankets and more to people with disabilities, widows and internally displaced people.
Humanity & Inclusion also referred people in need of other services such as health care and protection to other organizations able to offer them appropriate support.
In addition to Covid-19 related activities, Humanity & Inclusion has continued to assist victims of the conflict in Afghanistan by providing them with rehabilitation sessions, psychosocial support and mine risk education, along with assistance to conflict victims.
Global response to Covid-19
Humanity & Inclusion teams around the world have been responding to the Covid-19 pandemic since March 2020. Donors helped launch more than 170 Covid-19 projects in dozens of countries to protect and care for the people that others overlook. Between March and August 2020, staff have reached 2.2 million people with care and aid to keep Covid-19 at bay.
More than 80 million people in the world are living forcibly displaced from their homes, according to the latest data from the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency. That number has doubled over the last decade, skyrocketing in the last few years.
Violent conflicts, human rights violations, weather-related disasters and food insecurity are among key factors forcing people to flee their homes.
Among the 80 million people currently displaced, 45.7 million are displaced inside their home country. Humanitarian law differentiates between these individuals, who are referred to as internally displaced people, and refugees, who flee their home and cross a border to seek refuge in another country.
More than two-thirds of all refugees come from just five countries:
- Syria: 6.6 million
- Venezuela: 3.7 million
- Afghanistan: 2.7 million
- South Sudan: 2.3 million
- Myanmar: 1 million
More and more people are displaced for years. For example, the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya was established in 1992 and has grown akin to a small city. With more an 180,000 people living there, it is one of the world’s largest refugee camps. The camp is home to refugees from Sudan, Uganda, Eritrea, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Humanity & Inclusion works alongside people living in the camp and nearby host communities to provide physical rehabilitation services and assistive devices such as wheelchairs and crutches, and improve the living conditions of for refugees, in particular those with disabilities, by ensuring equal access to services, raising awareness of discrimination and building the capacity of staff working with refugees to assess needs.
Displacement of people with disabilities
Approximately 15% of the 80 million people displaced worldwide are living with a disability. Globally, an estimated 12 million people with disabilities have been forcibly displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution.
Forced displacement disproportionately affects people with disabilities, who are often at higher risk of violence, exploitation and abuse, and face barriers to basic services, education and employment.
Having left behind their homes and belongings, many displaced people—including those with disabilities—depend on humanitarian organizations like Humanity & Inclusion to access health care, food, water, shelter and other necessities.
Header image: A man carries his daughter, who is wearing leg braces, through a refugee settlement in Lebanon. They are Syrian refugees. Copyright: Kate Holt/HI, 2021
Inline image: An occupational therapist helps a boy with prosthetic legs use a walker during a rehabilitation session at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. Copyright: Patrick Meinhardt/HI, 2019
Since meeting Humanity & Inclusion’s mobile team in Afghanistan’s Herat region, 14-year-old Safa has covered a lot of ground.
When Safa was a young girl, she fell sick with a high fever. Her muscles got weak and, over time, she began living with paraplegia as her legs were paralyzed and deformed. Safa would spend hours sitting or lying down, which only worsened her situation.
Since Safa began working with Humanity & Inclusion’s mobile team, the teenager can finally stand, take a few steps, draw and dream of a new life. Safa is one of more than 4,000 people in Herat to whom Humanity & Inclusion’s emergency mobile teams provided care in 2020.
These teams provide rehabilitation and psychosocial support to people living in areas affected by decades of conflict, working specifically to provide physical therapy and assistive devices to people with disabilities.
Humanity & Inclusion provided Safa with at-home rehabilitation care, a wheelchair, and equipment adapted to her everyday life, and also referred her to partner organization to be fitted with orthotics to help her walk.
"I met Safa during one of our disability awareness sessions," explains one of Humanity & Inclusion’s physical therapists working in Herat. "This girl with paraplegia received no support unfortunately and she was almost completely reliant on others. Now, I visit her regularly to do rehabilitation exercises. She can stand upright and her deformities are less severe. Once she had regained some strength in her muscles, we gave her a walking frame. Safa is happy and proud of the progress she has made in just a few months.”
Sitting and standing again have changed Safa’s life. She can draw and take part in everyday activities. She wants a normal life and would like to go to school. One thing's for sure: Safa is working hard to become more self-reliant and she is filled with hope for the future.
Image: A teenage girl named Safa stands with the support of a standing frame in Afghanistan. She is coloring. Copyright: O. Zerah/HI
When she was 4, Mahnaz lost the use of her legs. Since meeting the Humanity & Inclusion team, this determined little girl is getting back on her feet again.
As a toddler, Mahnaz loved playing games with her friends, but that changed when her health quickly deteriorated. Soon, she couldn’t stand or use her arms. At an age when most children are exploring the world around them, Mahnaz found herself unable to walk.
Mahnaz, her parents, and her six siblings have always lived in extreme poverty. Her father is a laborer, who is away most of the time, working in Afghanistan’s Ghur province to provide for his family. Despite their difficult situation, Mahnaz's parents tried to help their daughter using traditional treatments, but nothing worked. They lost hope in ever finding a solution.
Nine months ago, when Humanity & Inclusion’s mobile team in the Herat region offered to treat 9-year-old Mahnaz, they accepted with low expectations.
"When Humanity & Inclusion started her treatment, we didn't think she would get any better because all the traditional treatments had failed,” Mahnaz’s mother explains. “We didn't believe in it anymore.”
Mahnaz's life has changed immensely. Mahnaz does regular rehabilitation exercises to strengthen her muscles and improve her balance. Humanity & Inclusion has given her leg braces and a walking frame. Equipped and determined, Mahnaz is learning to walk again.
The girl's mother can’t believe the progress Mahnaz has made. “Mahnaz has started to improve,” she says. “She can stand up and do a few steps with her braces. She is walking better, and we think it’s going to work! We're so happy!”
Mahnaz dreams of running and even playing soccer. Once she is self-reliant, her family wants to enroll her in school.
Image: A young girl named Mahnaz wears leg braces and stands with the help of a walker outside in Afghanistan. Copyright: O. Zerah/HI
Thanks to his willpower and rehabilitation sessions with Humanity & Inclusion's physical therapists, Fazlu, 6, is back on his feet after his village was bombed.
An air raid on his home village in Afghanistan’s Badghis Province claimed the lives of Fazlu’s brother and sister. Fazlu was severely burned and his right leg was injured. The resulting muscle contractions and scarring caused muscle weakness and pain, significantly reducing Fazlu’s range of motion. It ached when he made any kind of physical effort and he found himself unable to move.
Fazlu, his parents, and his six remaining siblings sought refuge after the bombing at a camp for displaced people in Herat. The family is extremely poor and live in a small mud house.
Humanity & Inclusion’s mobile emergency team in Herat visits the camp regularly to provide support to especially vulnerable people - like Fazlu and Juma, another air strike victim - at their homes.
When Humanity & Inclusion's mobile team first spotted Fazlu, it was three months after the bombing, and he couldn’t walk. The team began his treatment immediately.
Making progress each day
Just months later, Fazlu’s life is returning to a new normal. The mobile team provides him regular physical therapy session at home.
“Session after session, he has made real progress," says Abdul, the mobile team's physical therapist.
It didn’t take long for Fazlu to understand the importance of his rehabilitation exercises. He is determined to get better and his hard work is already paying off. Now, he can walk and even run around with his friends.
“My son’s life is back to normal,” says Fazlu’s mother. “He can do the things he was doing before, and he's much better! I am really grateful to the physical therapists at Humanity & Inclusion for their help.”
Although Fazlu would like to go to school, conditions in the camp make that impossible. Still, he is enjoying his newfound freedom and loves running around and playing games with his friends.
Header image: A young boy named Fazlu does exercises with a physical therapist outside a mud house in Afghanistan. Copyright: O. Zerat/HI
Inline image: A young boy named Fazlu sits in a circle with other children playing a game in Afghanistan. Copyright: O. Zerat/HI
An air strike struck the Afghan home of Juma, 14, leaving him with quadriplegia. Regaining his independence is his top goal, and Humanity & Inclusion is right by his side to reach it.
One night in October 2019, the lives of Juma and his family were rocked by a terrible explosion. His family’s home was targeted in an air strike that killed his 3-year-old sister and injured his father. A severe injury to his brain and spinal cord left Juma with quadriplegia, and difficulty speaking.
Displaced, mourning and permanently injured, Juma and his family are paying a heavy toll for an air strike in a conflict they know nothing about. Following the tragedy, Juma’s family fled their village in central Afghanistan's Ghor Province, and took refuge in a camp for displaced people near the city of Herat, where they live in a small mud house in extreme poverty.
Juma's father was left disabled by a shoulder injury, and can no longer work. Isolated and without income, the family’s main concern is how to meet their basic needs.
Before Humanity & Inclusion arrived at the camp, Juma hadn’t received any help. Unable to move, the teenage boy spent most of his time in bed. Sometimes his mother would take him outside to enjoy the sun and fresh air.
Everything changed when Humanity & Inclusion's mobile emergency team first traveled to meet Juma in September 2020. The team visited his home and provided him with rehabilitation care and taught his parents exercises to do with their son. The team also gave the family advice about coping with everyday problems. Juma continues to receive regular follow-up care.
"When Humanity & Inclusion came to our home, hope returned,” explains Juma's mother. “It was really hard for me to carry my son all day. He couldn't move at all and he was depressed.”
Juma’s mother says she is already seeing her son make progress.
“The team started his treatment right away and gave him a wheelchair and equipment. I also learned how to do his rehabilitation exercises with him,” she says. “He can move his hands again, he is feeling better, and he can do certain things by himself. I am really grateful to Humanity & inclusion for their help."
Support for the whole family
In addition to providing physical rehabilitation to Juma, Humanity & Inclusion is also providing psychosocial support for his entire family. The family talks with the mobile team’s counselor, sharing their feelings, discussing their problems, and brainstorming solutions together. This psychosocial support makes it easier for the family to cope with the trauma they’ve endured and the challenges they face. They are not alone.
As for Juma, he has regained some of his mobility and his morale is improving.
“I would like to walk again and go to school, just like the other children,” he says.
Juma is a brave boy and continues to do his rehabilitation exercises with his mother. His beautiful smile has returned, giving hope to the whole family.