Their names are Nowar, Mo’men, Alaa, Mohamed, Dima, Loai, Salam and Ibrahim. They work as occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and social assistants. Aged from 25 to 30, they are all members of Handicap International’s local teams in Jordan. Their mission is to improve the living conditions of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees by helping them perform daily activities.
NOWAR: “I ADVISE FAMILIES TO ENSURE PATIENTS RECEIVE DAILY CARE”
Bilal, 4, is lying on a mattress. When he sees Nowar, Handicap International’s occupational therapist, who has been monitoring him since his family arrived in Azraq refugee camp in eastern Jordan, his face lights up with a smile.
Bilal has cerebral palsy. Although four years old, he is unable to speak and has limited mobility. The exercises Nowar does with him will make it easier for him to move around and help him forge a closer relationship with his mother and young brothers.
“It’s really important to me that Bilal’s family learns to do the same exercises as me,” explains Nowar, who helps Bilal’s mother practice his exercises.
“If Bilal does exercises every day with his parents, I’ve achieved at least part of my mission,” continues the occupational therapist. “I provide support to some 50 families at the moment. It’s difficult, under these conditions, to give a lot of time to every patient. My role is to advise their relatives so they can give them this essential care themselves.”
ALAA: “IMPROVING THE LIVES OF REFUGEES”
Alaa has been working as one of Handicap International’s social assistants since 2013. She and Mo’men, a physiotherapist, form one of the mobile teams set up by Handicap International to reach out to the most isolated Syrian refugees. Every week, Alaa and Mo’men travel through the governorates of Amman and Zarqa to visit them and do physiotherapy exercises with them.
“My work mainly involves assessing the situation facing refugees and trying to find simple solutions to their problems,” explains Alaa, as she and Mo’men enter the house of the first beneficiary, Mohammad Ahmad.
A solidly-built man of nearly fifty, his life was turned upside down in an air attack on his native city. “When the planes started dropping their bombs, all I could think of was saving my son’s life,” he explains. “I lost my leg in the attack, but we’re both still alive.”
After his amputation, Mohammed and his family took refuge in Jordan in 2014, where Mohammed was fitted with a prosthesis. Since then, the family has lived in Marka, in a suburb close to the capital, Amman. Despite living in deprived conditions, Mohammed and his son are determined to look on the bright side.
While Mo’men does exercises with Mohammed, Alaa asks him questions about his accommodation, his means, and the family’s everyday problems. “We try to get a general idea of their lives and, eventually, we inform other organisations so that they can provide them with the assistance they need.”
“What’s really important is to listen to the refugees and to talk with them, and do everything we can to improve their lives,” says Alaa. “If I can help Mohammad’s family live with dignity, then at least I can say I’ve made a difference.”
LOAI “I WANT THEM TO REMEMBER MY SENSE OF DEDICATION… AND MY SENSE OF HUMOUR!”
The Al Maqased hospital is located in Jabal Al-Akhdar, a neighbourhood of the capital, Amman. This is where Loai, one of Handicap International’s physiotherapists, spends most of his week, providing support to Syrian refugees seriously injured in the conflict.
“I see between eight and ten patients a day. The cases are often very serious. The patients have traumatic brain injuries and spinal injuries… when they get here, the spark has usually gone out of them,” says Loai, as he walks through the hospital’s corridors, visiting the rooms of the patients he treats.
When they see Loai, the patients and their families react in an unexpected way: their faces light up with a grin and the room suddenly fills with jokes and laughter, cutting through the silence that reigns in the hospital.
He quickly gets down to work: Loai asks how the patient is feeling and about the physiotherapy exercises the family needs to do every day. “When they leave the hospital, sometimes patients don’t have access to the care they need, so their family needs to do exercises with them to make them more autonomous.”
“I want patients to get better, to be more mobile but also better in their own minds, and that’s the most important thing to me. When they change for the best, that’s what I find most touching,” says Loai. “When they leave hospital, I want them to remember my sense of dedication… and my sense of humour!”