06/01/2017, 14.55
SYRIA
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Caritas Syria: maimed and permanently paralysed, the disabled are the hidden face of the conflict

by Sandra Awad*

Since 2011, more than 300,000 people have been injured or wounded in the country's civil war, many permanently. People with disabilities need long-term care, but lack facilities. Hospitals have been forced to discharge patients to meet emergencies. Without “Jesus Christ, I would have collapsed long time ago,” said Georgette, who was hit by a sniper as she was going home after a baptism.

Damascus (AsiaNews) According to humanitarian organisation Handicap International, the numbers of people in Syria who have been injured or wounded since the start of the war (March 2011) is in excess of 300,000, and many of them will almost certainly experience permanent and life-long disabilities.

An unknown number of Syrians injured during war have sustained permanent disabilities because of the severity of their injuries and/or the lack of timely and adequate medical attention and rehabilitation.

After six years of war, Syrian hospitals lack medical equipment, drugs and specialised doctors to treat patients. Many of them have been forced to discharge people too soon in order to deal with incoming emergencies.

Some reports indicate that thousands of people may be paralysed or amputees, although the exact numbers of people who will experience permanent disabilities remains unknown at this time.

Last year, Caritas launched various initiatives in Damascus, helping more 115 disabled people, with wheelchairs, medical supplies, operations and medicines. Last year alone, the Christian charity helped an additional 213 families in the capital who have disabled members, providing them with food, necessities, and even basic education. They are one of Caritas Syria’s "priorities".

One of the faces of war, which unfortunately media do not usually show because it is not newsworthy, is that of Georgette. “I try to be strong, but I have the right to be weak sometimes. . . I really have the right,” she said fighting back tears. Here is her story:

“Sandra, when you feel thirsty or hungry, you can go to the kitchen to drink water or to eat something. I can’t do that. I need to wait for someone to bring me food or water. I feel myself humiliated every time I ask for such help. Every time I make an effort to do that, to ask for someone who can give me food, clean my body, or give me medication. . . It is true that my daughters are the ones who are taking care of me, but I feel my heart broken every time I ask them to do something for me. . .”

Georgette, a woman in her forties, was crying hard while she was telling our Caritas team her story.

“I was in the bus with my daughters, coming back from our village, after attending the baptism of my relative. We were on our way back to Damascus, when the driver suddenly took Harasta Road, which is a very dangerous road. He wasn’t supposed to do that. He coldly said to all the passengers: Be careful and close the curtains as there are snipers in this area. When I heard that, I asked my daughters who were 5 and 11 years old at that time to go under the chair. I was going to bend over them, when I felt something penetrated me. It was a sniper explosive shot, which hit my hand, then my chest to exploded inside my body and crush many dorsal vertebrae. I am paralyzed now. I can’t feel anything from under my chest till my toes. . .”

Georgette’s hands, who were pointing to the paralyzed part of her body, were shaking. This accident, which happened in 2012, was alive inside her with its pain and fear, like if it happened yesterday.

Since then, Georgette is undergoing one surgery after another, to get rid of the complication of the explosive shot, which penetrated her body, and left its destructive shrapnel in all her body, in all her life and in all her family’s life.

“Instead of taking me to the hospital, the taxi driver left me with my daughters on the first check point. Soldiers stopped a car, and took me to a public hospital. My daughters were very young at that time, they couldn’t understand what happened. They used my mobile phone, called their father in Damascus, and told him that I was killed and that they didn’t know where they were at that time. My husband turned crazy, and started to run in the streets, till he arrived to the bus station, and began to ask the buses drivers and passengers if anyone heard of us.”

Georgette started to cry again, her beautiful green eyes were covered with heavy rain, which wet not only her tired face but also all our hearts, with big sadness.

After four hours, my husband reached the hospital. He found the girls alone in a big hall, holding each other, shaking like leaves, and crying. He ran toward them, held them, and started crying with them. . .”

At this point of the story, Georgette started to cry and laugh at the same time, like if she was living another war inside her.

“My husband used to call me ‘My Bee’ as I was very active all the time. Now I am just sitting all day on this chair, not being able to do anything but ask for help. I try to laugh and make jokes like before. It is for my daughters that I try to be strong. During the last five years, each one of them became 10 years older than her actual age, serving me all the time. My husband lost his small factory and all his work and savings during this war, and now he is jobless. I try to be strong for all of them, but sometimes I don’t succeed in doing that. I have the right to be weak sometimes. . . I really have the right. . .

Finally, she turns her thoughts to God and the war. "I always pray to God to put an end to this war, because as it continues, a lot of people might be hurt the way I was hurt. Believe me, it is an unbearable situation, and without my continuous prayers, and my deep faith in Jesus Christ, I would have collapsed long time ago. . .”

* Head of communications for Caritas Syria, 38, married and mother of two, she lives everyday with the tragedy of the war.

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