Ali, 20, was left paraplegic after being injured in a bombing in 2013. The young Syrian refugee now lives with his family in a makeshift camp in the Beqaa Valley, Lebanon. For several months, a Handicap International team has been helping him adapt to his disability.
Spring has arrived in Beqaa Valley. The mantle of snow that covered the mountains has melted, revealing grassy fields below. But with each passing year, the fields shrink and the makeshift camps grow. There are now some 4,000 informal tented settlements (ITS) in Lebanon, 2,500 of which are scattered throughout the Beqaa Valley. Today, a Handicap International team is traveling to Majdel Anjar, in the heart of the valley, to meet with Ali. The young man greets Elias, a social worker, and Cynthia, a physical therapist, in front of his family’s tent.
Although Ali used to work in the fields back in Syria, it never occurred to him that he might one day live in one, even less so in Lebanon. That was before a few tragic seconds changed his life forever. His arms crossed and a weary look on his face, he recounts: “We were coming back from the mosque with my father and we decided to visit our neighbors. We had just entered their apartment when it was hit by a bomb. My neighbors were all killed, my father lost part of his hearing and my back was hit by a shrapnel that lodged in my spine.”
Fatih, Ali’s father, adds: “An ambulance arrived on the scene immediately and took us to the hospital. Ali stayed there for three days, then spent several months in bed, at home. All the while, the bombing grew heavier and our town gradually came under siege. We realized things were getting too dangerous. I sold my shop and a few weeks later, we arrived in Lebanon.”
The Handicap International team heard about Ali shortly after he arrived. The organization provided him with physical therapy sessions and medical equipment, including an anti-sore mattress, bed, and ointments, to make his life easier and to help heal his wounds. Today, Cynthia asks Ali about his injuries, while Elias talks with him and his family. As the years pass by, Ali is realizing that he will never walk again, and the social worker, sensing the young man’s distress, recommends that Ali takes part in psychosocial support sessions, alongside his physical therapy. “It took me a while to understand what had happened to me. I didn’t take anything with me when I left Syria. I thought we’d only be away for a while, and that Lebanon would just be a transition, a place where I could get back on my feet…”, explains the young man while texting his friends, also refugees, in other countries.
In Syria, Ali didn’t know how to read or write. But when he left his country, he wanted to keep in touch with his friends who, like him, had fled their homes, so he learned. They now communicate through social media and apps, sharing stories about their lives as refugees: “My friends live in so many different places around the world now,” explains Ali. “These new countries aren’t ours. We’re strangers. We’re like fishes out of water.” Ali looks affectionately at his little brother, Mohammed, who is sitting on his knees. The little boy doesn’t remember the war. He will grow up in Lebanon and has only learned about his home country through the stories his family tells him.
Ali is still struggling to accept his new condition and the Handicap International team will continue to visit him. The organization offers vital support to refugees in Lebanon. By providing them with physical therapy, occupational therapy, and psychosocial support, as well as by distributing mobility aids, Handicap International is helping Syrians recover not only physically but also psychologically. The physical and mental scars of war take time to heal, but the Handicap International's mobile teams are committed to giving both help and hope to people like Ali.