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Empowering 80 people with disabilities in Iraq

by Operation Mercy
Empowering 80 people with disabilities in Iraq

Like many international NGOs, we were told to temporarily halt our operations and projects in mid-March due to government restrictions. Every camp was closed to the public and all NGOs with only governmental aid were allowed to enter. Our office staff continued to work from home and secure funding for distributions for when we were allowed to enter once again. After gaining permission from the assistant governor of the region, we were able to visit and give food and hygiene products to 65 families spread out in seven camps last week!

These families are ones that we have been visiting weekly or twice weekly for the past several months or even years. We were able to put together a $50 packet of food staples and cleaning products for each family and then go to their houses to gift them with these essentials while maintaining a safe distance. Despite taking extra precautions and needing to wear masks and gloves throughout the hot days, our staff and clients were overjoyed to be reunited even for a few minutes! We asked how each client has been doing and we were able to hear their stories and encourage them and let them know they are not forgotten.

One young mother has been unable to leave her house as she has five children under the age of ten. Her husband had suffered an accident prior to this time and had only been able to do light daily work to provide for his family. After the restrictions were put in place due to COVID-19, he was unable to work at all because of this inability to find light work inside the camp. They were out of many necessary household and food items and were so thankful to receive the distribution gift and to see us once again.

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Hala is 18 years old and has been living in a Yazidi, Internally Displaced Peoples camp, since ISIS came to her village in the Sinjar region five years ago. When we first met her over a year ago, she never smiled, had no friends and had no hope in life. She would not leave her home because of her physical disability of severe bilateral clubfoot. Both feet were at a 90 degree angle pointed inwardly since birth. Despite spending all her time at home, her relationship with her family was strained. In January 2019 she underwent corrective surgery with one of our partner NGOs and had an amazing outcome of a straightened foot. We helped care for her in the hospital and back at her home with both nursing care and physical therapy. She then had surgery on her left foot in October 2019 with her cast removal just over a month ago. She now has two straight feet and is re-learning how to ambulate but is slowly walking as other young women her age!

Over the past year of working with Hala, not only has she changed physically, but also mentally and emotionally. We have really tried to instill in her how valuable she is no matter what her feet look like. She smiles now, laughs, and has started loving herself. She has friends and leaves her house to hang out with them. Her relationship with her family is also better. Just in the past few weeks she has joined one of our peer groups of young women her age with similar physical disabilities and said she really enjoyed it! She previously had not wanted to participate in a group but now says she looks forward to it. We have seen her transform from a shy and insecure girl to a vibrant, young woman.

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For the second time this year, Operation Mercy Iraq has partnered with a medical organization and facilitated orthopedic surgeries for many of our clients in our community-based rehabilitation program. This orthopedic team first came in January and performed 24 surgeries, and we have been the primary providers of physical therapy and wound care for these clients since that time. The same team was recently here and performed 20 more surgeries on some of our previous clients and on new ones we will begin to follow. Below is the result of one of our clients, a 7-year-old Syrian refugee, who fled the war with her family when she was a 1 year old. She was born with six fingers on both her hands and genu valgum or knock-knee in both legs. Both hands and legs were operated upon in January. She now can walk and run with no inhibition. Also, her quality of life as she grows up is and will be greatly improved in a culture where having six fingers may cause barriers to marriage or job opportunities.

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Sheya was just like any other child, running and playing with her classmates at school until she began noticing her body was starting to weaken. Sheya went from being completely mobile and walking to school to wheelchair-bound by age 9. Her parents took her to specialists who all recommended surgery in order for her to walk again. Sheya’s father had to make the decision to choose between paying for his daughter’s surgery or using the money for food for the rest of the family. Consequently, Sheya did not get the operation she needed at that time.

As time passed, Sheya had to stop attending school due to her mobility obstacles and became emotionally depressed. She lost her hope in life because of being unable to get married, walk or hang out with friends outside her home. She and her family were forced to flee ISIS in 2014 and have been living in a camp for displaced peoples since then. Our Community-Based Rehabilitation project has been visiting Sheya and her brother, who also has a disability, for the past several years. We have seen her blossom and share deep feelings from her past and how she is feeling presently just from the trust we've gained through our visits. She has also begun laughing again since we initially began our physical therapy visits.

In January 2019, a team of surgeons from the U.S. volunteered their services and performed orthopedic surgeries on 12 of our clients including Sheya and her brother. As of early June, Sheya started walking again for the first time in over 13 years! She needs help with stability and confidence but now has the hope and drive to continue until she can walk independently without a walker or an arm on which to lean. She talks about being excited about her life now and is viewing her future with great expectation.

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For the last several months the Community Based Rehabilitation team has been working to pass on as much knowledge and skills to our clients as possible through peer support groups, to enable them to care for each other and build a foundation community support in several refugee camps that we work in.  We have been serving over 20 different groups with this new approach and many more are waiting to begin.

One of the peer groups has a couple clients that suffer from hemophilia, and one of them and his family was fearful for him to get outside because of the possibility of injury and the dangerous consequences.  As a result he had not gone out of their tent for months.  The other person with hemophilia and his family quickly began to encourage and remind them of the importance for them to get outside, and decided to start stopping by their tent to take them outside and help them.  

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Organization Information

Operation Mercy

Location: Orebro - Sweden
Facebook: Facebook Page
Project Leader:
Maarten de Wolf
Orebro, Sweden

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