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“We lost everything in Syria”


Haitham is 53 years old. When his home was hit by a bomb in 2013, he fled Syria and took refuge in Lebanon with his family. Haitham has suffered from two strokes this year. Since then, Handicap International has been providing him with physiotherapy care to help him move around more easily. The organisation also provides support to his granddaughter, who appears to be suffering from myopathy. Handicap International’s assistance to Syrian refugees in Lebanon is supported by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Service (ECHO). 

Haitham and Cynthia during his physiotherapy session.

Haitham and Cynthia during his physiotherapy session. | © G. Vandendaelen / Handicap International

Laying on a mattress in a makeshift tent, Haitham holds out his hand to Cynthia, physiotherapist, and Elias, social worker, to greet them. Handicap International’s team members, who sit down next to him, have been monitoring him since he suffered from his last heart attack, back in April 2016. Haitham’s three children are also there to support him, and some of his grandchildren watch the rehabilitation session taking place. Although he seems to be in pain when he does certain movements, Cynthia encourages Haitham not to give up. His condition will improve over time, she says. 

He’s come a long way,” says Elias. “When we first met him, Haitham couldn’t walk or speak. Now he can move and communicate with us.” While his colleague continues the rehabilitation exercises, Elias asks how the rest of the family is doing. The social worker is particularly worried about one of Haitham’s granddaughters, who appears to be suffering from myopathy. Saja, 8, shows difficulty moving and communicating, and her condition is getting worse as she grows older. “I noticed she had problems when we first started visiting Haitham,” explains Elias. “We’re trying to arrange some tests to find out if she has myopathy or not. If she does, physiotherapy care is going to be vital to her too.” Seated next to Saja, Najah, her mother, is clearly saddened by the situation: “My daughter finds it harder and harder to express herself and to stand up... I’m worried for her and all I want now is for her living conditions to improve.” 
Najah’s level of anxiety has increased since Saja’s little brother was born. Eight months ago, she gave birth to the family’s youngest child, who also suffers from health issues. 

The infant lacks oxygen and can’t stay in hospital because his parents are unable to afford the bills. “Since he left hospital, we’ve had to pay more than $200 a month in medication to keep him alive. Can you imagine how hard it is to afford this amount of money when you’re a refugee?

At the end of his physiotherapy session Haitham comments: “We left our country three years ago because of the bombing. Our home was destroyed and my wife died of her shrapnel wounds. Other members of my family were killed too and it traumatized the children. We lost everything in Syria... But my wife is my greatest loss. She can’t be replaced.” He looks weary as he recalls his heart attack a few months ago: “One day I got up to go to the toilet. Suddenly, I collapsed and I couldn’t get up again. I called out and my family came to help me. I stayed at the hospital for two days but a week later, I had my second attack. I think these strokes have been caused by all the stress. Money is the biggest problem here. Sometimes we don’t even have enough to buy water.”

For refugees like Haitham and his family, Handicap International’s assistance in Lebanon is vital. The organisation works closely with other agencies providing assistance to the refugees, to ensure the most vulnerable people are included in the humanitarian response and can benefit from essential services in the country, but also in the rest of the region. 

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