Palestine refugee children in Syria longing to live a normal life

19 December 2013
Palestine refugee children in Syria longing to live a normal life

Amid all the violence of the conflict in Syria, now nearly three years old, the Hameed family will always remember the shell that hit their home in the Palestine refugee camp of Qabr Essit, in Damascus, on 3 July 2013. In an instant, three of the family's children - 17-year-old Ahmad, 13-year-old Omar and 10-year-old Raghad - suffered devastating injuries that have changed their lives forever. One of the boys is now paralysed from the neck down; the other is confined to his bed with severely damaged vertebrae. Raghad, only 10 years old, had to have both legs amputated; she will spend her life in a wheelchair. 

Injuries like these mean a major change in the lives of Palestine refugees. "Their opportunities to access services and lead a normal life are even more limited," said Amneh Saqer, a senior official of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Syria. "The UNRWA disability programme has to be able to meet their needs and work with service providers to help alleviate their suffering and create more equal opportunities," she added. 

Helping people - especially children as young as Raghad - deal with such a life-changing injury begins with physical support. Raghad started an intensive physiotherapy programme at al-Sader Hospital near Qabr Essit camp. Sometimes the pain and the frustration of the necessary exercises bring her to tears, but both she and the physiotherapist continue with diligence and patience, knowing how important they are. 

Prosthetic legs, doctors told Raghad's parents, might enable their daughter to walk again - but this option is out of reach for them; their income is limited, and though UNRWA helps pay for some medicines for Raghad and her brothers, expenses are already high, since her father is a cancer patient. However, Raghad's mother says: "I don't want my daughter to live the rest of her life discouraged and depressed." Mental and emotional support have become just as important as the physical.  

Some of that support has come from her school. Raghad's teachers describe her as lively, "with the boundless energy of girls her age," as one of them said. Although her medical condition keeps her out of the classroom at times, she is an eager, diligent and successful student, despite feelings of loneliness and isolation. Her classmates, too, have provided an important source of strength. They say they enjoy having her in their class: "She is a girl just like the rest of us," as a classmate put it. 

Still, Raghad can't help but regret that, in a wheelchair, she cannot run and play with the other girls. But recovering from a bilateral amputation and using suction to speak - her larynx was also damaged in the shelling - is a long process. In the end, the many challenges remind Raghad of the importance of her own resilience and maintaining faith in her own dreams. "My biggest challenge is following my dream of becoming a doctor, to treat people with injuries like mine," she says. Nurturing these dreams and hopes is, in the end, just as important as nurturing and healing the bodies that house them. 

Two UNRWA students from Gaza enjoy recess in their first day of school. © 2017 UNRWA Photo by Rushdi Al-Saraj
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