Syria | While picking olives, Salam touched a piece of metal. It was a bomb.
Salam was injured by a cluster munition in Syria in 2015. Booby traps, improvised landmines and explosive remnants heavily contaminate Syria. Children are particularly exposed.
One day in October 2015, 5-year-old Salam was in the field with her family picking ripe olives when she noticed a strange piece of metal on the ground. She thought she might be able to use it to carve pictures on rocks. It was a bomb.
The cluster munition had been thrown from an aircraft during the Syria conflict and, by design, had not exploded on impact but would when touched. It was the kind of bomblet that tends to explode diagonally.
The explosion killed Salam’s little brother, who was carrying water back from the well, instantly. Salam, her parent, and four other siblings were also injured.
The Red Cross rushed Salam to a medical facility in Jordan for emergency surgery. Her left leg and a toe on her right foot were amputated.
A long path to recovery
Salam was first assessed by Humanity & Inclusion in 2015 in the Za’atri refugee camp in Jordan, near the Syrian border. Separated from her parents in Syria, the young girl spent months alone until relatives living in Jordan were found.
After surgery, Salam worked closely with a Humanity & Inclusion physical therapist and a psychosocial support worker. To strengthen her injured right leg, Salam began to walk with the help of a frame. Then, she learned to walk with an artificial limb. Five years later, Salam’s prosthetic leg is routinely replaced as she continues to grow.
Salam experienced significant psychological trauma, becoming extremely timid and self-conscious after the blast. She refused to play with other children. Through occupational therapy and psychosocial support, Humanity & Inclusion helped Salam rebuild her confidence and encouraged her to interact with others.
Her new life in Jordan
Salam’s Jordanian relatives welcomed her and continue to take care of her. She now lives in Irbid with an extended family of 10 adopted brothers and sisters. She attends school, where she works hard and is frequently top of her class. She loves drawing princesses. Her adoptive father is grateful for Humanity & Inclusion’s support.
“We used to carry her to school before receiving the prosthetic leg and now she can easily walk to go to school,” he says. He has also seen a big difference in Salam’s confidence and happiness when playing with friends.
Salam dreams of becoming a doctor when she grows up and says she would love to make artificial limbs for other children.
Back in Syria
Too traumatized by what happened, Salam does not want to return to Syria, even to reunite with her parents and siblings. Her birth family believes she has better access to treatment and education in Jordan.
March 15 marks 10 years in conflict in Syria. Over the last decade, explosive weapons have been massively used in populated areas contaminating land across the country. Major cities like Raqqa, Aleppo and Homs have been destroyed by large-scale and intense bombing. Many of these weapons leave dangerous remnants or fail to explode on impact, remaining dangerous years after combat.
Today, 11.5 million people in Syria live in areas contaminated by explosive hazards.
Between 2011 and 2018 there were 79,206 recorded casualties from explosive weapons, 87% of which were civilians. While all population groups are at risk, children - especially boys, agricultural workers and people on the move are particularly vulnerable to being injured or killed by an anti-personnel landmine or explosive remnant of war.
Humanity & Inclusion and the Syria crisis
Since the organization began its response to the Syria crisis in 2012, Humanity & Inclusion has helped 1.8 million Syrians in six countries through emergency rehabilitation, psychological support, and supplying prosthetics and other assistive devices. As of December 2020, Humanity & Inclusion provided 14,000 prosthetics or orthotics to Syrians and conducted rehabilitation sessions with 180,000 people. Learn more about our work and the Syria crisis.
Header image: A young girl named Salam smiles at her home in Jordan. Her leg is amputated. She is a Syrian refugee.
Inline image: Salam sits on a table while a physical therapist fits her with a new prosthetic leg at a rehabilitation center in Jordan.
Cambodia | Sreyka recovers from car accident that took her leg
Sreyka was walking home from school in May 2019 when she was hit by a speeding driver and had to have her left leg amputated. She's returned to school after Humanity & Inclusion fitted her with a prosthesis.
Sreyka, 8, was skipping along the road after school when she was knocked down by a large speeding vehicle just 55 yards from her home. Seriously injured, she was rushed to a nearby health center and then to the nearest hospital, which lacked the equipment needed to treat her. Sreyka was taken to a pediatric hospital in Cambodia's capital city, where her left leg was amputated to save her life.
Sreyka's family lives with her maternal grandparents in a village in the Tbong Khmum province. The family lives on a limited income, made by her father who works in construction. Sreyka’s mother takes care her, her 14-year-old sister and their home.
Putting her prosthesis to the test
Seven months after the accident, Sreyka visited Humanity & Inclusion’s rehabilitation center in Kampong Cham, an hour from her village. The team of physical therapists and prosthetic technicians immediately took good care of her, providing her a custom-fit artificial leg and teaching her how to walk with it.
"I'm so happy that my daughter can walk to school again with her prosthesis and do so many things on her own," says Sreyka's mother. "She was really unhappy. And it was difficult for me too, because I had to carry her a lot and help her with everyday chores, lift her from room to room, and take her outside or to the toilet or bathroom. I am grateful to Humanity & Inclusion for their work because it means my daughter can be fitted with prostheses!"
Sreyka and her mother visit the center regularly for adjustments and replacements of her artificial limb - she's already on her second prosthesis and will only need more as she grows! They also learn tips to care for Sreyka's stump. For instance, it's really important to change the girl's socks (on her stump) as often as possible. Her stump could become infected if they don't tend to it.
"In addition to regularly providing her with prostheses and teaching her to walk with her prostheses, the team at the rehabilitation center also does physical therapy exercises with Sreyka and gives her counseling,” explains Mr. Doung Chetha, the coordinator of Humanity & Inclusion’s Kampong Cham Rehabilitation Center.
A bit of a daredevil, Sreyka is putting her new leg to the test.
"I like to play with my friends at school, I pretend to be a ghost,” Sreyka says. “I always enjoyed running around the house with my cousins and friends. And now I can do what I love again! Sometimes I try to ride my bike and even skid in front of my grandparents' house.”
Back to school
Sreyka is gradually overcoming the trauma of her accident. Her confidence is growing and she is engaging more with her family and friends.
When she first returned to school, the second grader felt shy at first and wore long skirts to hide her legs, but now she wears the same uniform as her classmates. Sreyka has definitely taken to her new leg.
"My school is quite far away, a half-mile from home, but I often walk there. I really like school,” Sreyka says with a beautiful smile, adding that her favorite subject is Khmer, Cambodia’s primary language.
When she grows up, Sreyka hopes to train to make orthotics and prosthetics.
The Humanity & Inclusion team in Kampong Cham is right to be proud of her!
Header image: A young girl named Sreyka shades her eyes while sitting on a bicycle in Cambodia. She is wearing a prosthetic leg. Copyright: Stephen Rae/HI, 2020
Inline image: Sreyka sits at her school desk, smiling as she raises her hand during class in Cambodia. Copyright: Stephen Rae/HI, 2020
Afghanistan | It shouldn't be dangerous for a child to graze his goats
Ali was out grazing his family's goats one day in March 2020, when he took a step that would change his life forever.
He stepped on an explosive remnant of war, one of the many weapons left from war that contaminates his village in Afghanistan.
The 9-year-old boy was seriously injured and rushed to a hospital. Doctors there had no choice but to amputate Ali's leg below his knee.
"Ali couldn't walk after his accident," says the boy’s uncle. "We were desperate. We couldn’t leave him alone. Without his leg, he needed help from dawn till dusk. We were all stressed and really upset."
Plagued by conflict, poverty, explosive weapons
Ali lives with his parents and five siblings in a village in Afghanistan that is mired by conflict. Villagers face extreme poverty, cut off from vital resources, their farmland contaminated with explosive weapons. Ali's father, who used to work as a day laborer, can no longer find work.
Ali was caring for his family's goats – their only means of survival – when the blast stole his right leg.
Road to recovery
Soon after Ali's operation, the Humanity & Inclusion team began working to fit him with an artificial limb at its rehabilitation center in Kandahar. Humanity & Inclusion teams have worked in Afghanistan since 1987.
"I’m really grateful to the Humanity & Inclusion team for doing their best to make Ali's prosthesis so quickly, and for helping him do his walking exercises," says Ali’s uncle, who accompanied his nephew at the rehabilitation center. "He can walk now and he’s really hopeful about the future."
Ali began physical therapy in April and was fitted for his first artificial limb soon after. During six, daylong sessions with the Humanity & Inclusion team in May, Ali learned to walk again and final adjustments were made to his prosthetic.
Within two months of the tragic event, Ali went home to his family with a new artificial leg that helps him be the same active boy he was before. Since then, Ali has returned a couple of times to Humanity & Inclusion’s rehabilitation center for follow-up care and minor repairs to his artificial limb.
"The first time I visited the center, my uncle had to carry me," Ali explains. "I couldn't walk. But now I can go home on my own two legs and play with other children again. I feel happier since I got my new leg."
Dreams beyond the region's conflict
Ali is a fighter and a lover of cricket. But even with his new leg, Ali's life is not back to normal.
Conflict continues in the region where he lives. The threat of Covid-19 is ever-present. Schools are closed. Survival is uncertain. Still, Ali dreams of a peaceful future in which he can return to the classroom.
"Now I have a new leg I can go back to school and get an education," Ali says. "I could do anything I want. I like drawing a lot but what I really want to do when I grow up is to be a doctor so I can help people!"
Header Image: A Humanity & Inclusion team member, who is wearing a mask and medical scrubs, squats on the floor of a rehabilitation center in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He is fitting a prosthetic leg on a young boy named Ali, who is sitting on a bench. The boy is smiling at the man.
Inline Image: A young boy named Ali sits on a bench outside in Afghanistan. His left leg is amputated below his knee. Copyright: Jaweed Tanveer
Yemen | "A rocket blew up not far from me"
Twelve-year-old Zakarya is the eighth child of a poor family living in a small village in northern Yemen. His life changed dramatically when he was injured in a rocket attack on his village. "I was outside playing with my friends when a rocket fell into the street and blew up not far from me," he recalls. "The explosion went right through me. I was riddled with shrapnel. I was alone and injured, so I started to scream and cry. You don’t know what it’s like until you’ve been through it."
As there are no hospitals near his home, he was rushed to Sana’a. But his injuries were so grave that surgeons had to amputate his left leg at the thigh.
Like most boys his age, Zakarya loved to run around outside and play soccer with his friends. But suddenly he found himself unable to walk, run or play with his classmates. He felt excluded and fell into a deep depression.
"I was shocked when I was discharged from hospital without one of my legs," he says. "It was horrible. I couldn’t bear to be with other people or even to talk. I felt like they were looking at me with pity all the time."
A new leg
Humanity & Inclusion provided him with crutches, which helped him move around on his own and do things by himself for the first time. It was an important step forward, and one that gave him hope. But he only really began to see an improvement in his condition after he’d started rehabilitation exercises with one of the organization's physical therapists.
Three months after his operation, Zakarya was fitted for an artificial limb. Humanity & Inclusion donors and partners covered the production costs.
Rehabilitation and psychological support
Zakarya started attending group therapy with other children who, like him, had been injured or had had an amputation. It helped him realize he wasn’t alone. There, he began to accept his disability, talk about it and share his feelings, and even made some new friends.
It’s important to combine rehabilitation care with psychological support, explains Ayman, one of HI's physical therapists in Yemen. "We always make sure people get rehabilitation and psychological support. They go hand in hand. Having an amputation is traumatic—physically and psychologically. Some patients refuse to accept what’s happened to them, and they lose interest in life. We help them to recover, use their legs again, and feel better in themselves."
Reviving his dreams
Zakarya is coming to the end of his rehabilitation care. He’s making the most of being a child again and refuses to give up on his dreams: "I want to be a soccer player," he says. "I’m glad I can walk again. I can play with my friends now and go back to school."