Hassan* was just two years old when the bus he was on with his family was air bombed, as they scrambled to flee the intense fighting in the Syrian city of Aleppo. His mother, Safiya*, describes the devastating loss and injury the whole family experienced, and Hassan’s determined struggle to learn to walk again after losing both of his legs in the bombing.
She says: “On the bus when it happened, I just remember feeling an explosion. I felt dizzy and opened my eyes.
“I saw everything in the bus. I realized instantly that my daughter who was sitting next to me had died.
“I saw my children one by one. I moved and looked around to give Hassan to his father, but my husband was out of the cabin. I did not know that Hassan’s legs had gone. I lifted him to let his father take him from the window, and in that moment, I found no legs.
“I really didn’t know who I should console – myself, my son or my dead daughter.
“I dragged myself out of the bus. I could only think of my children. I started to cry and shout, asking people to help us. I said, ‘My children are in the cabin please help us!’
“An old man came and helped us. My daughter who had died was left in the cabin. I said that I wanted her. It’s really a very terrible feeling that you cannot say goodbye to your child and that you cannot take her with you.”
The family suffered unimaginable loss and injuries – sadly, like so many others. During a decade of war, nearly half a million Syrians have been killed and thousands more injured – including 86,000 people, many of them children, who have lost limbs.
Hassan survived the blast, but Safiya knew that if he was to ever walk again, he needed specialized medical help. The family eventually all made it to Turkey to find the support they needed.
Safiya says: “I kept my strength for my children’s sake. My main goal became helping my son to learn to walk again.
“Hassan was not able to walk, even on his knees. He had just learnt to walk when the injuries happened. He has been happy. I had just bought him new shoes and he was trying to play football. He seemed to think that I was the one who had caused him the injury – whenever he looked at my legs, he would hit me and look at himself.
Safiya brought Hassan to the National Syrian Project for Prosthetic Limbs (NSPPL), supported by Relief International. Just one mile from the Syrian border, this humble clinic specializes in recovery from complex war injuries, providing prosthetic limbs, physical and psychosocial therapy.
The center’s expert team hand-made Hassan a pair of prosthetic legs in their workshop and began the slow process of working with Hassan over many months to teach him to walk again.
Safiya remembers, “The center provided physical and psychological treatment. They also supported me and made me feel stronger – and all the family too.
“Hassan was only two and a half years old when we went to the clinic, which is a long way from where we were living. They told us that we would need daily treatment at first, but we didn’t have anywhere to stay nearby. They allowed us to sleep in the center for one week until Hassan had his prosthetics fitted.”
After months of hard work and over 40 hours of physiotherapy, this determined little boy learned to walk again. Hassan is now eight years old, and Hassan is obsessed with soccer and runs everywhere. He’s no longer the traumatized little boy who first came to the clinic.
Safiya says, “I want to thank the center and wish them success. They gave me strength and so much more.”
The NSPPL center has been funded by Relief International since 2017. In 2020 alone, Relief International helped more than 5,000 Syrian children and adults in Turkey relearn to walk and recover from injury, staying open safely despite the challenges posed by Covid-19.
*Names changed to protect identity.