Back on her feet: overcoming disability in Gaza

16 August 2012

16 August 2012
Gaza

After discovering a soft tissue mass in her left leg in 2003, Fatmah was scheduled for surgery after surgery. But with a shortage of local expertise to treat her condition, and her family living in poverty, her health care options were limited.

During her third operation in Gaza a ligament was torn, leaving one leg slightly shorter than the other – and with a noticeable limp.

“My daughter was fine, walking on her feet”, her mother recalled about Fatmah before the operation. “After the surgery, her life changed completely.”

Left school in the fifth grade

In the fifth grade at the time, Fatmah abandoned her studies because she felt too embarrassed to face other students with her disability. Her family couldn’t afford the necessary follow-up medical care, even after UNRWA provided her father with employment as a sanitation worker.

With help from Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), she eventually travelled to Israel for treatment, receiving radio-chemotherapy sessions four times per year. Despite this improved level of care, her disability remained and she now uses a crutch for support.

“Because all my weight is concentrated on my right leg when walking, it hurts and is very painful”, Fatmah explained. “I spend all the night crying out in pain.”

UNRWA social worker brings her back to school

Recognising that her condition was not just temporary, a social worker from UNRWA named Abu Khalid sat down with Fatmah to explore her options. They worked with the Agency’s education programme to figure out what it would take to bring her back to school.

Abu Khalid counselled her on the benefits of continuing her studies. And to make the learning environment more accessible for her, they arranged for her classes to take place on the ground floor of the school. Fatmah was delighted by the changes, and it was the encouragement she needed to go back. “I am happy now, as I can get to my classroom easily”, she said.

Now 14 years old and back at school, Fatmah’s battle to improve her health also continues. She travels every few months to Israel to receive treatment, and her experience has even made her start thinking about a career.

“I want to become a social worker to help others like Abu Khalid helped me.”

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