From adversity to hope
Mental health and psychosocial support helped Osama regain his inner strength
25 September 2023, Rural Damascus, Syria - “If it weren’t for Ms Salwa’s support during the tough days, I think I would still be staying at home, mourning the loss of my leg,” said Osama. He is 14 and lives in Altal city in Rural Damascus.
Last summer, Osama worked at a wheat mill to support his family. “I was working on the grinder when, suddenly, my leg got dragged inside it,” he said. Osama was immediately taken to a nearby hospital. Sadly, his injury was severe, and the doctors had to amputate his leg.
“At first, I felt Osama didn’t accept my presence or support. I realized he was traumatized and in pain, so I respected his situation. It did not make me despair.”
Salwa is a case manager at a UNICEF-supported child protection centre in Osama’s city. She went to talk to the family at the hospital after hearing of the incident. “At first, I felt Osama didn’t accept my presence or support. I realized he was traumatized and in pain, so I respected his situation. It did not make me despair,” Salwa said.
She kept visiting Osama in the hospital and at home for a while. His family, having lost all their savings and everything they owned during the conflict, struggled to make ends meet. She referred Osama to a local charity to help him get a wheelchair and crutches so he could move. They also helped to cover his medical bills.
“Osama was not ready to talk about the accident, so I focused on having fun with him and playing games,” Salwa added. Osama learned how to play chess from Nour, a volunteer who accompanied Salwa on some of the visits. Nour noticed that Osama was talented in chess and his skills were improving quickly. Salwa encouraged him to participate in a chess competition organized in Altal city every year. “It was a turning point in my relationship with Osama when he came second in the competition. I started gaining his trust,” she explained.
Osama started attending individual mental health and psychosocial support sessions with Salwa and a psychotherapist helped him to cope and overcome the trauma of the accident. At the same time, Osama got a prosthetic leg from a public hospital in Damascus Salwa had referred him to. He was also trained on how to use it at the hospital.
“I was with him when he wore it for the first time. He insisted on putting it on by himself, without any help, after seeing other children do it. It was one of the happiest moments in my life, watching him walk again.
Osama arrived on his bike for the next session with his psychotherapist. Salwa was also there. “I was so proud of him. Osama only needed some support for his inner strength to come out.”
Wanting to face his fears and get rid of his daily nightmares, Osama decided to go back to the mill. He had not visited it since the accident.
“When I heard the grinder, I couldn’t stand it. I went out for a few minutes and gathered all my strength before going back in again. I looked at the machine and watched it move. I saw a piece of my clothing still stuck in there,” said Osama, pausing for seconds to get himself together.
“Suddenly, I felt peace in my heart. The accident was in the past and it couldn’t hurt me anymore,” he added.
This year, with the encouragement of his family and Salwa, Osama went back to school. He had been forced to drop out for a year during his treatment. “It is a great achievement for Osama. Despite all the pain he faced last year, I believe he will be a successful man in the future,” Salwa said.
Osama dreams of becoming an architect in the future and talks about wanting to design a school, a hospital or a centre for children.
Between January and August 2023, UNICEF has reached more than 128,000 children with mental health and psychosocial support, some 18,000 children with case management and 143,000 children with psychological first aid in the earthquake-affected areas. These activities were funded by the Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA/USAID); the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) through the KFW Development Bank; the Governments of Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan and New Zealand; the Global Humanitarian Thematic Fund, the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation; Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency; the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office; UNICEF National Committees for Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, Ireland, and the United Kingdom; and United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund.