Syria | 3 months after earthquake, HI helps children overcome trauma
Mohammed, Taim, Hosain are three of the young survivors receiving psychological support from HI’s partners after the deadly February earthquake in northwest Syria. These are their stories.
When asked how he is doing, Mohammed, 12, replies with a smile, "Tamam, tamam"—"I'm fine, I'm fine." The wound on his head has healed, but he still has six rehabilitation sessions to go before his broken leg is completely healed.
"I can already play soccer with my friends despite my crutches, but now I want to learn to swim," he says.
Mohammed is the eldest of three children. His siblings were unharmed during the February earthquake. Mohammed's family was able to escape before the building they were living in collapsed violently. They have since found another apartment to move into and Mohammed has been able to return to school:
"I love studying, my favorite subjects are geography and history," he shares.
Some wounds are less visible. However, the traumas are deeply rooted in the minds of these children.
"I can't fall asleep at night because I have nightmares, I can still hear the sounds of the earthquake, and I'm really scared," says Mohammed.
Sleep disorders are among the recurring symptoms of these little earthquake survivors, explains Ammad*, one of the psychologists at HI’s partner hospital.
"These children are plagued by repeated flashbacks and recurring nightmares, which prevent them from sleeping peacefully,” he explains.
Music, games, drawing... activities to ease anxiety
"Baba, Baba"—"Daddy, Daddy"—little Hosain repeats. He was visiting his aunt with his mother and siblings in a small village near Idlib when the earthquake struck. Hosain, 4, was trapped under the rubble for three days; all his relatives who were with him that day died. Doctors had to amputate Hosain’s left foot.
"I was at my aunt's house and then when I woke up, I was with Daddy in the hospital," he explains.
Hosain’s father confides that there is not a day that goes by without Hosain asking for his mom. The child also asks his father if he remembers any moments that they spent together.
"In addition to a deep sense of sadness and fear, these children suffer from mood and concentration problems and a loss of interest in everyday activities," says Ammad, who meets with Hosain after each of his rehabilitation sessions at the hospital.
"I put on soft music and offer to draw or dance, I tell him nice stories and we do various recreational activities,” the psychologist explains.
A drawing by Taim
Mental health support
Taim's favorite thing is drawing. His right hand was broken in the earthquake, but fortunately, he can still use his pens and pencils. Taim and his family were staying with relatives in Turkey when the earthquake struck. Taim and his mother—who was seriously injured—now live with their grandmother.
HI's partner teams in charge of mental health and psychosocial support agree that children are especially resilient after tragedy: these children seem to rebuild themselves more quickly than adults. But this varies from one child to another and from the environment around them.
"We remain vigilant because children are the most vulnerable and sometimes their feelings are ignored or put aside," concludes Ammad.
Since February, HI and its partners have provided 9,724 psychosocial support sessions to survivors of the earthquake in Syria. About ¼ of the patients are children.
*Ammad is a pseudonym
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Humanity & Inclusion has provided rehabilitation sessions for more than 8,300 people since the earthquakes on February 6. Among the patients helped are two children, Rema and Abd Al-Rahman.Read more
Syria | Displaced by war, orphaned by earthquake
Abd al-Rahman, 2, lost several members of his family in the earthquake on February 6 and was himself seriously injured.Read more
Syria | Sami heals from physical, psychological distress of amputation
A car accident forever changed the life of Sami, 60. His leg was injured and, eventually, doctors made the difficult decision to amputate it. Humanity & Inclusion specialists in Syria are helping Sami recover.
After Sami’s home was bombed in 2012, he rushed to check on his family. But on the way, he had a car accident and severely injured his right leg.
He underwent internal fixator surgery, but suffered from complications because of a viral infection, pseudomonas aeruginosa, picked up in the operating room.
The infection didn’t respond to treatment and caused bone necrosis. Sami had several bone transplants with external fixators, but after 10 years spent in and out of the hospital, the physician decided it was time to amputate his leg.
In April 2022, Sami had a below-the-knee amputation. Humanity & Inclusion and its partners’ physical rehabilitation teams prepared him for an artificial limb.
Path to rehabilitation
Although the operation went well, Sami experienced psychological distress. He began binge eating and smoking heavily, which affected his general health, causing breathing difficulties and decreasing his physical endurance. This in turn affected his rehabilitation sessions and learning to walk with his new leg.
Thanks to the joint efforts of HI’s physical therapist, prosthetics technician, and psychosocial support worker, Sami was finally persuaded to leave his house using his 10-year-old crutches. He started losing weight, cutting cigarettes and adopting a healthier lifestyle. This was a great help in regaining his independence.
Last August, measurements were taken for Sami’s first artificial limb. After exercises to strengthen his muscles, increase his range of motion and improve his balance, he was ready to be fitted with his artificial leg.
Through gait training and rehabilitation sessions, Sami became more comfortable with his new leg. He gradually set aside his old crutches and began walking without any support. Now, he walks with confidence.
Sami has returned to work at the taxi company where he was once a driver. Today, he manages the calls and coordinates the drivers.
Jordan | A decade after her first artificial limb, Mariam receives ongoing support from HI
Mariam is among the millions of Syrians who have fled their country to seek refuge in Jordan or Lebanon. As the Syrian conflict enters its 12th year, Humanity & Inclusion continues to work alongside Mariam and other refugees with disabilities.
Mariam and her family arrived in Jordan 10 years ago. She and her mother came seeking medical care for injuries sustained in a bomb attack. Mariam lost her left leg and her right leg was badly injured. Her mother lost an eye and needed facial reconstruction surgery.
They fled Syria a few months after the tragedy, traveling at night to escape aerial attacks on the way. Mariam used crutches when she could, but when the terrain was too rough, her father carried her.
Mariam, now 20, lives in Irbid, Jordan, with her parents and her brothers and sisters.
Remembering the attack
Mariam vividly remembers the day of the bombing. It was in 2012. She was only 9 years old.
She was playing with other children in the street in front of her grandfather's shop. Her mother was inside and the rest of the family was at a friend’s house.
All of a sudden, two planes flew overhead. Everyone panicked and rushed for cover. Mariam ran inside the shop and sheltered under the counter.
But a missile tore through the concrete wall of the shop. The debris of the explosion hit her mother in the face. She lost her right eye and suffered a skull fracture. Mariam’s left leg was torn off in the explosion and her right leg was badly injured. A second missile landed directly on top of Mariam, but it didn’t explode. Her grandmother was killed.
People rushed to rescue the wounded. She was driven to the hospital in the next city. In the chaos and panic, she was separated from the rest of my family.
“The whole way, the people in the car kept telling me to stay awake and not go to sleep,” Mariam recalls. “I remember the whole thing, as I didn’t pass out until I reached the hospital."
When they arrived at the hospital, the people driving the car left her at the entrance on the pavement and drove off. The last thing she saw before losing consciousness was a bright light.
When Mariam woke up the next day, an adult she didn’t know was in the room. It was the owner of a sweet shop opposite the hospital, who had carried her inside when the car left her.
She told him the name of her mother and gave him her uncle’s phone number—the only one she knew—which helped him locate her family.
The amputation was poorly performed, leaving the edges of the bone jagged, then stitched up and covered with just a gauze and bandage. She was released after a month.
A few months later, the whole family fled Syria for Jordan where doctors corrected her amputation. She received her first artificial limb from HI when she was 10, followed by rehabilitation sessions.
“I was very close to the staff at HI,” Mariam says. “I was always a playful child then. As I grow, every new prosthesis I’ve received since I was a child makes me feel reborn again."
Mariam still has nerve damage in her right foot, but she is able to walk with her artificial leg.
“Everyone is homesick, but going back to Syria is out of the question,” Mariam’s father explains. “It takes only one incident to learn from a mistake. We would never be able to survive mentally if we went back and there was another incident. We can’t just throw ourselves back into the fire.”
A love for sewing
Mariam has developed a love for sewing. Right now, it's mostly a hobby.
“It helps me get rid of my negative energy,” she says. “I spend my time watching tutorials on YouTube to improve my skills.”
Recently, HI provided Mariam with vocational training. After she completed the 4-month sewing course at Ejwan Academy in Irbid, HI gave her a new sewing machine.
"When I’m older, I hope to set up my own sewing business,” she adds.
HI’s team is counseling Mariam’s family about an opportunity for her to work in a clothing factory to earn money. Her father is supportive of her working, but he worries about her taking public transport every day.
Syria | Walking brings a smile to Housen’s face
Housen, 8, has cerebral palsy. Humanity & Inclusion and its partners in Syria developed a specifically tailored rehabilitation program to help him learn to walk and become more independent.
Housen Omar Al-Khalaf was born with hypoxia—low levels of oxygen in body tissue—causing cerebral palsy. He also has lung cirrhosis. Housen’s stepmother knew that rehabilitation could improve his mobility, so she went to see one of HI’s partners—a center offering specialized rehabilitation services.
The team started with a physical assessment of Housen and reviewed his medical history. He was seen to have a number of issues, including a balance problem, muscular atrophy and respiratory distress. The team then defined a treatment protocol specifically adapted to his needs.
Housen was given a walking frame and participated in a series of rehabilitation sessions to help him recover his balance and strengthen his muscles. He also had gait training to learn to walk and was taught therapeutic positions to adopt while sleeping, sitting, standing and walking to correct and prevent further joint problems.
His stepmother—who is his main caregiver—was taught some basic rehabilitation exercises to do with Housen at home and shown how to create a safe place in their house.
The investment of Housen’s physical therapist and caregiver paid off sooner than expected! When he first walked with a pediatric walking frame, happiness filled his face and that of his stepmother.
Housen’s rehabilitation treatment lasted for three months. But his story doesn’t not end there: he will be receiving further treatment that will enable him to walk without assistance and be more independent.