The Fate of People with Disabilities in War

This month, I hope to call your attention to something that means a lot to me: the fates of millions of people with disabilities and injuries caught up in the Syrian crisis. March 15 marked the 5th anniversary of the conflict, which has injured more than 1 million civilians, leaving thousands of them with a  disability for life as a result of  the loss of limbs or spinal cord injuries. Countless people who already had a disability or illness are left in a desperate situation.

People with disabilities already have inherent obstacles to overcome in order to live a normal life. I, myself, have struggled to overcome challenges like getting dressed and earning a driver’s license. How much more difficult must it be to live with a disability when daily life includes bombings, persecution, displacement, and a dearth of health services. 

I’m very proud that HI, the organization I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador, has dedicated enormous resources—tens of millions of dollars in 2015—to helping Syrians with disabilities and disabling injuries in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. They’ve provided more than 600,000 Syrians with support like physical therapy, prosthetic limbs and mobility devices, trauma counseling, lessons about staying safe amid weapons, and access to financial support or even kits to meet their basic needs.

From the following photos, you can see children receiving physical therapy with the help of HI staff. Both my mother and I have benefited from physical therapy—I, as a toddler learning to walk, and my mom, as she recovered from a debilitating stroke. Physical therapy is critical for people with mobility issues to gain independence, which directly affects their quality of life. For these children, physical therapy gives them the hope they need to look forward to each new day.


When I see this picture of 3-year-old Huda, who has cerebral palsy, I remember the struggles I went through as a little girl learning how to walk without having arms for balance. Huda looks a little unsure of herself, but she’s trying! In time, her uncertain expression will turn to confidence. qusay.pngHere, Qusay, 14, who lost both of his legs due a bombing, is learning how to walk with prosthetic legs. This inspiring picture gives me such gratitude for the work of HI. This young man might have been confined in bed for years without their intervention. noor.png

HI Physical Therapist Noor reminds me of some of the physical therapists I’ve known who have go above and beyond their job to bring out smiles and laughter during the intensity of rehabilitation. Here she works siblings Aboud, 4, and Hala, 6, who both have cerebral palsy.workshop.pngThese tiny orthotic devices at a workshop in Amman, Jordan, remind me of years I spent visiting Shriners Hospital to be fitted with prosthetic arms. The children who will use these devices are carefully measured to ensure that their orthotic or prosthetic limb fits them perfectly.bayan.pngBayan’s expression, smiling through pain, reveals the hard work involved in rehabilitation. While it might not always look like it, physical therapy can be exhausting and frustrating at times. However, the results are life changing, so HI staff push their clients to stay motivated.

With all that’s going on in the world and in the U.S., it’s difficult to take the time to think about those effected by the Syria crisis, but we must. Because if we don’t, who will?

If you’d like to learn more about HI’s work and see pictures of other Syrian refugees they support, watch this video about their Jordan projects.

Jessica Cox