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Aswan lost her legs, but not her will

UNICEF Yemen/2017
© UNICEF Yemen/2017
Aswan, 15 years. Both her legs have been amputated after she was injured when a mortar shell hit her family house in Taiz.

Children in Yemen Continue to Pay Heavy Price of Conflict

By Mohammed Al-Asaadi

24 November 2017 - It was at 6am on 9 May 2017 when life for the Al-Kubati family was turned upside down. The night before, 15-year-old Aswan went to bed with her long to-do list for the following day – that includes helping her mother with housekeeping work. More and beyond, Aswan was thinking of how to outsmart her peers in the village and become the doctor she has always wanted to be. The village school is far and the road is rocky – but not for young and active Aswan who used to climb the mountain many times a day while helping her mother or going back and forth to school.

The young girl woke up to heavy sounds of shelling. As a child, she was curious to check what was going on. To the roof of their house she went, where she saw a random mortar heading towards her. Frozen in fear, she jumped a meter but was too late. Aswan was severely injured in both legs, her mother was wounded in the chest and lost her left eye, and her grandfather, the family breadwinner, was found dead by shrapnel while still in bed. In a few seconds, everything had changed forever.

The war has so far claimed so many innocent lives including 1,876 children killed (1,275 boys; 555 girls, 46 of unknown gender) between March 2015 and November 2017. Including Aswan and 806 other girls, 2,987 children were verified injured in this conflict in the same period.

Aswan was hospitalized in an MSF clinic in Taizz. The doctors had to amputate both legs from the knees. “I was under anesthesia; and I had some sort of nightmare that I had my legs cut,” Aswan said. “My doctors tried to comfort me that I would be ok, but I told them that I had already seen my limbs cut.” After the needed trauma treatment, she was moved to Sanaa to receive artificial limbs and physical therapy.

Accompanied by her elder brother Abdullah and her mother, Aswan was brought to the Prosthesis and Physiotherapy Center (PPC) in Sanaa city, where she has received artificial limbs and physical therapy. She is sitting calmly, wearing an innocent shy smile. Aswan wears a long abaya, the traditional black garment worn by women outdoor, covering her body from shoulders to feet. She wears neat sports walking shoes.

“I am trying to adapt to the new reality. I was so worried that I would never walk again. But now I have another chance. I am exercising here where I was given this pair of artificial legs,” she said while uncovering her legs. Although embarrassed, she was so confident and apparently able to overcome the psychological point of weakness.

UNICEF Yemen/2017
© UNICEF Yemen/2017
After the amputation of Aswan’s legs as a result of a severe injury caused by a mortar shell, she has been provided by artificial limbs.

The ongoing conflict has cost the people of Yemen unimaginable losses including the sense of safety in their homes. In addition, Aswan’s father lost his job in Aden after the escalation of conflict there in 2015 and now he looks after the rest of their kids while Aswan and her mother are receiving treatment in Sanaa.

The governorate and city Taizz are amongst the most conflict-affected areas in Yemen. The verified number of children killed there since the escalation of conflict stands at 423 children while 938 have been injured. The actual figures could be much higher. The people of Taizz have been exposed to several waves of displacement. Thousands of families from Taizz have been dispersed all over Yemen as a result of relentless ground fighting and airstrikes exposing more children and civilians to unlimited hazards.

UNICEF is launching the second phase of support to injured children and children with disabilities coming from all parts of Yemen to the PPC in Amanat Al Asimah - Sanaa city. This is in response to the growing needs of the center. The support will be through provision of supplies and prostheses that will help children move independently and lead a normal life.

During the first phase, completed in April 2017, UNICEF and its partners provided 246 children (192 boys and 54 girls) who were directly and indirectly affected by the conflict with integrated support of physical rehabilitation and psychosocial support as well as assistive devices. The children who benefited from the programme came from 19 governorates across the country to Sanaa, due to the unavailability and lack of services in most of the governorates.

In addition, UNICEF has supported 13 children (10 boys and 3 girls) in Aden’s Prosthesis and Physiotherapy Center and they were provided with artificial limbs and physical rehabilitation. UNICEF plans to expand and strengthen its support to the PPC in Taizz, Aden and Hadhramout to respond to the increasing needs of children in the country.

“We stay in hotels and sometimes we get hosted by people we know,” Aswan’s brother Abdullah, 20, said. “It is very expensive and we can’t afford all the costs of transportation and living given that my father is not working any more. We barely manage through charity which is never enough.”

Aswan has already missed two school years. She fears that she will not able to go school, but she is determined to find a way to finish her education.

The treatment of Aswan’s physical injury is taking a very long time but eventually she will be able to help herself move around. However, the scars of the war will remain forever. The question now is how long the world will see more children like Aswan paying with their lives or struggling on with lifelong injuries as a result of a conflict not of their making?

The conflict has caused many injuries - both physical and mental. Thanks to the flexible thematic contribution from the Government of Denmark towards the Yemen Humanitarian Action for Children (HAC), UNICEF's Child Protection team was able to provide essential psychosocial support to children affected by the ongoing conflict. Thanks to Denmark UNICEF was also able to provide support to unaccompanied or separated children as well as reintegrate back into their communities those formerly recruited and used by parties to the conflict.

 

 
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