“We need to carry on helping these refugees”
Syria’s nearly seven-year conflict has devastated the country, resulting in unprecedented population movements. More than five million Syrian refugees are living in neighbouring countries, including more than one million in Lebanon. Mariam has been working as a physiotherapist for Handicap International (HI) since the organisation launched its response in the country. Below, she describes her work with refugees.
Mariam in one of the makeshift camps in Beqaa Valley, Lebanon. | © Elisa Fourt / HI
Over time, Mariam has become accustomed to the human cost of war. “I’ve seen a lot of people injured in the conflict over the years. What really strikes me is how, in general, they’re just as likely to be affected mentally as they are physically. It’s hard to see people looking so desperate. But I try to do what I can to make their lives easier.” As winter settles over the Beqaa Valley, Mariam sets out on the same journey she has been making, five days a week, for the last five years. As one of HI’s physiotherapists, she travels to the homes of Syrian refugees and provides them with rehabilitation care. Her outlook on the humanitarian crisis and her approach to working with refugees has changed over the years. “I can remember when I started working here,” she says in the car on the way to visiting one of the organisation’s beneficiaries in their shelter. “People were in dire need. A very high number of them were coming into Lebanon from Syria and there were hundreds, thousands of casualties. It was quite daunting.”
Mariam always knew she wanted to help the refugees. “The refugees who need physiotherapy care – I could have been one of them. Using my skills to help them just seems the right thing to do. I’m doing what I’d want them to do for me, if the shoe was on the other foot. I’ve come across so many people who have really benefited from our work. And working in the field every day, I’ve seen what a big difference we make to their lives.”
Session after session, Mariam’s visits become part of the everyday lives of the organisation’s beneficiaries. She’s also seen the situation change over the years. “Most of the people I visit live in makeshift camps. They might have lived there for years, but their homes are still far from comfortable. They live in very tough conditions, and as the war grinds on, things are getting worse. We’re starting to see different types of injuries and disabilities as well. I deal with a lot of routine injures now because refugees are more likely to live in precarious circumstances. For many people with chronic diseases, their health gets worse too, because they don’t have access to the care they need.”
As she arrives at the camp, before starting her first visit of the day, Mariam adds: “Very few organisations in the country offer services like physiotherapy. But physical rehabilitation makes a big difference to the lives of conflict-affected people. We absolutely have to do everything we can to help these refugees and to meet their essential needs as long as the conflict lasts and even once it’s over.”