Abdallah, 13, and his older brother play checkers using stones from the camp road and a piece of board scored with pencil lines. "The game helps Abdallah forget his pain for a while," explains Mohammad, a physical therapist with Handicap International. The game finishes and Abdallah pulls up the leg of his trouser, revealing the external fixations in his upper right leg.
“He suffered a serious fracture in an explosion,” explains Mohammad as he starts a series of rehabilitation exercises. While he goes through the movements, Abdallah describes what happened to him. “I was sitting in the street with my best friend," Abdallah says. "Suddenly, a missile fell right next to us and there was a huge blast. Then I couldn’t feel anything. I tried to get up three times but each time I fell down again. My leg was covered in blood. I tried to crawl over to my friend and cried out for help. The neighbors came and laid us on blankets and then took us to the hospital. I was in surgery for two hours. Two or three days later, my best friend died. That’s my story.”
Abdallah fights back the tears for a moment before continuing. He recalls the weeks spent in Mosul after his accident, before he was able to leave the city with his family. “It was okay to start with. We stayed at home and I played board games, but after a while, I started to feel anxious. I couldn’t keep calm anymore. I used to fight with the others and get angry about everything. If someone sat next to me, I’d hit them. Or I’d tell them to leave, because I was irritable. I was so bored.”
“A lot of people like Abdallah feel very distressed,” explains Mohammad. “That’s why Handicap International offers psychological support sessions as part of their rehabilitation care. It’s vital that people talk about what they’ve been through to recover mentally, as well as physically.”
As the two chat, Abdallah tries to focus on the present. He tells us of life in the camp. “I stay in my tent in the morning. In the afternoon, I go to school. They teach me lots of things. It’s what I like best about my life at the moment. I think I’d like to be a teacher,” he adds. “I’d like to teach other people to read and write.”
As the session draws to a close, the teenager shares his hopes for the future. “My greatest wish right now is to stand again." Mohammad replies with a smile: “If you carry on doing your exercises, your dream will soon come true.”
Fighting between armed groups and government forces in Iraq in recent years has displaced more than three million people. An estimated 11 million civilians already need humanitarian assistance in the country. The Mosul offensive has presented international organizations with an unprecedented challenge. More than 485,000 people have fled the city since last October.
HANDICAP INTERNATIONAL AND THE IRAQI CRISIS
More than 200,000 people have benefited from Handicap International’s actions since the launch of its emergency operations in Iraq in 2014. Our actions are regularly reviewed to take into account a highly volatile situation across the whole of Iraqi territory. Handicap International currently organizes population protection activities, raises awareness of the risk from mines and conventional weapons, conducts non-technical surveys and clears potentially hazardous areas, provides physical and functional rehabilitation and psychosocial support, supports health centers, organizes training and advocacy, and provides technical support to partners to enhance the inclusion of vulnerable people (people with disabilities, casualties, older people, and others) within their services.