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At a glance: Lebanon

In Lebanon, a Syrian boy copes with disability and loss

© UNICEF Lebanon/2013/Hunter
Sahar Samhoun, a Lebanese psychosocial worker at NGO Himaya, looks after a toddler at the sister agency Arc en Ciel child-friendly space in eastern Lebanon.

By Miriam Azar and Benedicte Vene

Like all children, those with disabilities have many abilities, but are often excluded from society by discrimination and lack of support, leaving them among the most invisible and vulnerable children in the world.

UNICEF launched its flagship report The State of the World’s Children 2013: Children with Disabilities on 30 May 2013. The report brings global attention to the urgent needs of a largely invisible population.

According to UNHCR, nearly half a million Syrians have taken refuge in Lebanon since the outbreak of conflict in their homeland. One of them is Ali, who is also learning to cope with another terrible consequence of war: his own disability.  

BEIRUT, Lebanon, 30 May 2013 – Imagine you are a healthy 13-year-old boy from a prosperous family. One day at school, you witness the death of your classmates in a horrific bomb blast, and you realize one of your legs is missing. Suddenly forced to leave your home and your belongings behind, you walk across the border into a new country. You settle in a makeshift camp, living in poverty. And living with a disability.

“Sometimes I wish I had died in the explosion,” Ali says. He looks down as he talks to Sahar Samhoun, a social worker at the UNICEF-supported NGO Himaya, a sister agency of Arc en Ciel, a Lebanese NGO that works with children with disabilities.

Coming to terms

Ali and his parents and four older sisters fled their Syrian homeland six months ago in search of safety. They arrived in Lebanon having to rebuild their lives from scratch while living in a makeshift tent. Ali has had to learn to cope not only with this life-changing upheaval, but also with the loss of a limb.

© UNICEF Lebanon/2013/Hunter
Older children enjoy the outdoors and each other's company at the Arc en Ciel centre.

“Ali is still coming to terms with the tragedy he experienced in Syria, and learning to deal with his new disability,” says Ms. Samhoun, who provides psychosocial support to children with disabilities.

In addition to psychosocial interventions, UNICEF supports NGO partners in providing speech therapy and physiotherapy to children with disabilities in eastern Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. NGOs Arc en Ciel and Himaya run a child-friendly centre for children with disabilities and their families.

An additional layer of vulnerability

Aid workers and social workers are seeing increasing numbers of child refugees arriving from Syria with disabilities caused by the conflict.

“Armed conflict is a major cause of disability among children,” says UNICEF Lebanon Representative Annamaria Laurini. “Children who have been displaced from Syria into Lebanon have often experienced or witnessed violence, are now living in poverty, and face an uncertain future. Learning to live with a disability creates an additional layer of vulnerability.”

For some there is hope.

Ms. Samhoun regularly visits Ali and his family at their settlement in eastern Lebanon to provide counseling. Although still in shock, Ali is learning to adapt to the new situation and to his disability. As the only son, he is determined to support his father and help provide for his four sisters and their mother.

While Ms. Samhoun insists that Ali will go back to school one day, he currently attends the vocational training workshops provided by Arc en Ciel. Ali is now learning to repair computers and mobile phones.

In order to be fitted with a prosthetic leg, Ali needs to undergo further operations, which the family cannot afford. So Ms. Samhoun brings Ali to the centre for physiotherapy to help him build enough strength to use crutches. She does not want him to be restricted to a wheelchair, because she feels it will only hinder him in the long term.

Her aim for Ali is that one day he will move independently – and that he will never accept unnecessary limitations.



UNICEF Photography: Children with disabilities

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