When Handicap International's physiotherapist, Mohammad, enters the family tent, Abdallah and his older brother are playing draughts. They’re using stones picked up earlier from a camp road for the black and white pieces. Their board is a square of wood scored with pencil lines.
Mohammad sits next to them and waits for the game to end. “Times like these are important,” he explains. “They help Abdallah forget his pain for a while.”
After a few minutes, the game is over and the physiotherapy session can begin. The teenager pulls back his trouser to reveal the external fixations in his upper right leg.
“He suffered a serious fracture in an explosion,” explains Mohammad, as he starts a series of rehabilitation exercises. While he does the movements recommended by Mohammad, Abdallah describes what happened to him:
“I was sitting in the street with my best friend. Suddenly, a missile fell right next to us and there was a huge blast. Then I couldn’t feel anything. I tried to get up three times but each time I fell down again.”
“My leg was covered in blood. I tried to crawl over to my friend and cried out for help. The neighbours came and laid us on blankets and then took us to hospital. I was in surgery for two hours. My best friend died two or three days later. That’s my story.”
Abdallah fights back the tears for a moment and then continues with his story. He recalls the weeks spent in Mosul after his accident, before he was able to leave the city with his family.
“It was okay to start with,” he says. “We stayed at home and I played board games... But after a while, I started to feel anxious, I couldn’t keep calm anymore. I used to fight with the others, and shout, and get angry about everything. If someone sat next to me, I’d hit them. Or I’d tell them to leave, because I was irritable. I was so bored.”
“A lot of people like Abdallah have felt or still feel very distressed,” explains Mohammad. “That’s partly why we offer psychological support sessions as well as rehabilitation care. It’s vitally important that people can talk about what they’ve been through to recover mentally, as well as physically.”
As Mohammad chats with the teenager and helps him through his exercises, he tries to focus on the present. What does he think of camp life? “I stay in my tent in the morning. And in the afternoon I go to school. They teach me lots of things. It’s what I like best about my life at the moment,” explains Abdallah.
“I think I’d like to be a teacher,” he adds. “I’d like to teach other people to read and write.”
As the session draws to a close, the teenager also shares his hopes for the weeks and months ahead.
“My greatest wish right now is to stand again,” he says. Mohammad replies with a smile: “If you carry on doing your exercises, your dream will soon come true.”
Abdallah and Mohammad at the end of the session. © E. Fourt / Handicap International