Seven-year-old Ahmad is smiling so hard he has to use his hands to pull his mouth in to a more serious expression. He tilts his head slyly towards his new visitor, a female Handicap International staff member, and then puts his pinky finger to his cheek. “I’m so happy you’ve come because you’re so beautiful,” he says with a wink. His mother puts her hand to her forehead in feigned embarrassment while everyone else bursts out laughing.
“I like flirting with girls,” says Ahmad shyly, holding his hands over his eyes--but with a slight gap between two fingers so he can still see everyone’s reaction. “I’m also happy because I have paper and markers and can draw horses.”
Ahmad slides on to the floor, grabs his markers, and sets to work drawing horses. Horses running, horses jumping over walls, and a horse carrying him on its back—wheelchair and all. “I loooove horses.”
“Ahmad was born happy and smiling and he’s stayed that way ever since,” says Safia, his mother. “Even now—with both legs gone, no father, and no home but this one cold room—he still helps us all remember to smile.”
Safia sits outside huddling by a small fire with her four older children and a few neighbors. They live in a unfinished cement building with no running water or heat on a derelict olive farm. A big stray dog with streaks of mud running its white kinky hair cautiously circles the property, hoping to find a meal amidst the trash heaps. It’s cold and windy on this hillside and there are no shops nearby.
“No,” says Safia. She cannot bare to talk about the events that led them to this place. Her older children and the neighbors whisper a few details. Safia’s husband died in 2009, but the family was still living in relative comfort. Then the war came and a bomb landed behind Ahmad when he was outside playing. His legs were gone below the knees. There were no hospitals or doctors so a very rough amputation was performed on the spot. The family fled to Lebanon in November 2012. Ahmad had to be carried or wormed about on the ground. Then, a few months ago, Handicap International discovered him and brought him a wheelchair.
“Let’s have a look at your legs,” says Lotfi , Ahmad’s Handicap International physiotherapist. Lotfi carefully unwraps the bandages around Ahmad’s stumps and then asks him how they feel. But Ahmad’s more interested in impressing the women in the room with his good looks. He tries on a hat, but decides to do without it. After smoothing his hair back, he puts Lotfi’s bandage scissors in between his teeth like he’s biting a rose.
“Ok, time to get serious,” says Lotfi, biting his lip to hold back his laughter. “We need to get you stronger.”
After doing some strengthening and flexibility exercises on the groud, Lotfi asks Ahmad to get in his wheelchair and come outside. Lotfi wants Ahmad to practice maneuvering his wheelchair on rough ground and around obstacles. Ahmad complies for a little while, but then decides it’s time to race. He pulls the wheels hard and flies from Lotfi to his mother and back again, like ping pong ball. When they were finished, Ahmad asks Lotfi for a kiss.
“My work is difficult because I have so many sad cases,” says Lotfi, who sees about 50 other beneficiaries each week. “However, Ahmad is a joy to work because he is so positive. It feels more like play than work.”
Ahmad agrees that life is better with Lotfi and Handicap International. “I used to be so low on the ground but now I am ‘up.’ I can even go to school,” says Ahmad.
“All of his teachers at school love him,” says Ahmad’s older brother Firas. “He is a very good student and does particularly well in math.”
Safia would like to do more to help her children but she has no income and relies on loans from relatives. Since she and her family have been in Lebanon for more than a year, they also do not qualify for many NGO assistance programs, which tend to be reserved for new refugees. However, the family will soon benefit from enrollment in Handicap International’s cash program. The organization carefully selects vulnerable families and individuals to receive $200 per month for five months. Using bank cards, they will be able to take out cash to pay for whatever necessities they choose: food, rent, heat, school supplies.
Radical change needed for older, disabled and injured Syrian refugeesRead more
Takoma Park, Maryland — One month after the adoption of Security Council resolution 2139, assessments show that progress on humanitarian access in Syria has been very limited.
Assessments estimate that more than 3.5 million people are still cut off from food and medication, say eight aid agencies. When the United Nations Security Council takes stock of progress on humanitarian access this Friday, they have to be honest about the lack of progress. The Council needs to act to ensure that this resolution is implemented immediately to provide life-saving aid to millions of Syrians.
“I talk with my family and friends, who are still trapped inside Syria almost every day," said a refugee volunteer in Jordan. "They do not have access to food or medication. People are starving to death. One of our neighbors has fallen into a diabetic coma, because she could not access insulin anymore."
According to the UN, more than 9.3 million people are in desperate need of humanitarian aid inside Syria. “Dedicated aid agencies are ready to cross battle lines, borders, rivers and mountains – whatever is required to end the human suffering in Syria," said Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council. "There is no excuse for not facilitating a lot more cross-border aid operations."
“Behind the headlines are people inside Syria for whom this war is a bitter, daily reality," said Thierry-Mehdi Benlahsen, Regional Emergency Coordinator Handicap International. "This crisis might appear complex in political terms, but is dramatically simpler in humanitarian ones. Through humanitarian assistance we cannot stop this war, but we can reduce people’s suffering and dying in the absence of a peaceful political solution. The UN Security Council needs to strengthen the implementation of the resolution including detailed monitoring mechanisms and ensure that much needed humanitarian assistance reaches the people trapped inside Syria."
More than 9 million people have fled their homes and remain displaced within Syria or to neighboring countries three years after the crisis started.
“The growing plight of millions of Syrians underscores the importance of making UNSC resolution 2139 a success," said Mark Schnellbaecher, Regional Director of the International Rescue Committee. "Every day that passes without progress on humanitarian access, is the worst day yet for Syrians struggling to survive."
International aid agencies welcome the fact that the UN was able to send an aid convoy from Turkey to Syria bringing additional humanitarian assistance to so far provided only by NGOs, however this is a small step and much more access is needed. In the past weeks insecurity continued to interrupt aid distributions, and access remains highly constrained as violence is ongoing across the country. In neighbouring countries, the numbers of refugees arriving has been increasing during March because of increasing insecurity. The number of newly arrived refugees in Jordan per month is the highest number this year.
“Syria cannot remain a symbol for humanitarian and political failure," said Roger Hearn, Save the Children’s Regional Director. "The UN Security Council needs to ensure the resolution is implemented and becomes a reality on the ground for the millions of Syrians in need Syrian children cannot wait any longer.”