Lebanon: Zoheir, 6, "All I want to do is learn"


Zoheir, 6, has spina bifida, a congenital malformation that prevents him from walking. He took refuge with his family in Lebanon three years ago and has benefited from Handicap International’s assistance in the past few months.

“When Zoheir was born, everything seemed normal,” says Mohammad, his father, as Elias, a social worker, and Cynthia, a physical therapist, sit on the terrace surrounding the family tent. “But just a couple of hours after he was born, my son couldn’t move his legs any more. I saw the doctors fussing around him and I realized there was a problem. It wasn’t long before they discovered a lump in his back, which looked like a tumor. Zoheir had to have several operations, but the doctors couldn’t do anything about his condition.”

Mohammad’s tinted glasses can’t hide his emotion as he recalls the first hours of his son’s life. Shortly after his birth, Zoheir’s parents applied for their son to receive physical therapy care, a service that was free in Syria at the time.

But in 2012, when the conflict broke out in their country, Zoheir could no longer benefit from rehabilitation sessions. “Our home was destroyed in the air strikes. First we were displaced inside Syria, but we quickly decided to go to Lebanon.”

As his father talks to Elias, Zoheir does his rehabilitation exercises, conscientiously following Cynthia’s instructions. “We do these exercises to keep his joints flexible and to help him move around more easily,” explains Cynthia. “I’m glad the family has come to watch the session, because I want to show them how to take care of Zoheir.”

The little boy’s brothers, sisters, and parents watch Cynthia’s movements closely as they continue to chat. “I try to find organizations who can help Mohammed, who has suffered from blindness for several years. It’s part of my job to determine the family’s needs,” says Elias.

Grateful for the help the organization is giving them, Mohammad says, “When we arrived here, someone gave Zoheir a wheelchair but it was in a very poor state. When we met Elias and Cynthia, they immediately brought us a wheelchair that was better adapted to my son. He can go out and play with his friends now and he’s much more active.”

Zakia, Zoheir’s mother adds, “He can also go to the grocery to buy what we need. He loves doing the shopping for us: he says he’s going there in his ‘car’, when he actually means his wheelchair.” His parents smile affectionately and Mohammad proudly states, “My son has got a strong personality. What he lacks in strength in his legs, he makes up for it with his arms and his motivation.”

The session comes to an end and Zoheir shows Cynthia some of his drawings. Despite his love of learning, has not been to school since he arrived in Lebanon. His parents, with help from Elias, hope to solve this problem soon. “We got in touch with an organization working on inclusive education and told them about Zoheir,” explains Cynthia. “Soon, if everything goes according to plan, the children will be able to go back to school again.” Zoheir has drawn a big house surrounded by a beautiful garden. Mohammad looks at his son’s drawing and says: “Although we’re trying to make the most of what we’ve got here and to make sure our children get a good education, we’re still impatient to return home when the conflict ends.”

Handicap International’s work with Syrian refugees in Lebanon is supported by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Service (ECHO).