When Halima gave birth to her youngest son Abdikadir, now 14, in the Somali town of Harara, the baby seemed to be perfectly health. But as he grew, she noticed a change. “One day when I was feeding Adbikadir, I looked down and studied face and head,” says Halima. “And then I realized, his head was deformed.”
Abdikadir had spina bifida, a birth defect that causes incomplete development of the brain and spinal cord. It can cause paralysis of the lower limbs, loss of sensation, and poor coordination. When Abdikadir was four months old, he had an operation to place a shunt in his head to drain excess fluid from his brain. Doctors operated on his back five months later but the surgery failed.
Halima was devastated, and the situation for her family was about to get much worse. In 2005, during the civil that was tearing Somalia apart, Halima, her husband Mohamed and their seven children fled their home. “We walked for more than two days,” says Halima. “My husband and I carried Abdikadir along the road. He was four years old and unable to walk. It was a very hard time.”
In 2007, after two years on the move, the family arrived in Kakuma Refugee Camp in northwest Kenya where they struggled to make ends meet. Abdikadir was totally dependent on his mother and didn’t go to school because it was too far away.
In July 2014, Handicap International, which had just started working in the camp, sent occupational therapists to meet with Abdikadir and his family. They immediately gave him a wheelchair so that he could move around more easily, and a specially adapted wheelchair desk that would enable him to go to school. Physical and occupational therapists also perform rehabilitation exercises with Abdikadir three times per week.
Since then, Halima has seen great improvements her son’s physical and emotional health. “My son smiles more, he’s more open,” says Halima. “He’s got his energy back. As soon as he gets home from school, he just wants me to take him outside to be with his friends while they play football. He seems to be full of hope.”
Over the last year, Handicap International has conducted more than 13,000 rehabilitation sessions for more than 1,400 patients in the in Kakuma Refugee Camp.
This project is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.