“Everything disappeared in front of his eyes - his body couldn’t cope”
Mohsen, 64, fled the war in Syria with his family. Deeply affected by the events of recent years and his difficult living conditions, he suffered a stroke that left him hemiplegic. Handicap International (HI) is providing him with physiotherapy care, to help him regain some of his mobility.
Mohsen with his grandchildren Muqdad and Yasmine, in their shelter in Arsal. | © E. Fourt / Handicap International
“My father had a throat cancer, a few years ago, and he lost his voice. After a while, I learned how to read his lips and worked out what his whispers meant.” As he is the only son who managed to flee with Mohsen to Lebanon, Humam spends a lot of time with his dad. “Two of my brothers have disappeared in the Syrian conflict, and two others were killed in bombings... So my parents really depend on me - it’s up to me to take care of them now.” Mohsen’s grandchildren also help out with everyday tasks. “Muqdad, my nephew, and Yasmine, my daughter, have learned some basic rehabilitation techniques to improve my father’s health. They support him with his physiotherapy exercises, every day,” explains Humam proudly. Since the start of the conflict in neighbouring Syria, dozens of refugee camps have appeared across the landscape in Arsal, northern Lebanon. Over half of the local population is now Syrian. Sheltering under tents and tin roofs are tens of thousands of people, each with their own life story to tell. Handicap International’s team pushes through a small wooden door to pay one of its regular visits to Mohsen, who lives in a small shelter made of bricks. The Syrian grandfather welcomes Mariam, Handicap International’s physiotherapist, with a smile. A large hole in his throat prevents him from uttering a word. His son, Humam, interprets his whispers.
The events of the last few years have brought this exiled family closer together, and each generation supports the other. “I want to help my grandfather get better,” says Yasmine shyly as she sits next to him. “It’s really important that families get involved,” adds the organisation’s physiotherapist. “Our teams have to care for so many people that we can’t provide them with daily physiotherapy sessions. The fact that Mohsen’s family helps him with his exercises is really helping him recover.”
“My father couldn’t move at all after his stroke three months ago,” says Humam. “Movement is really important to him because he can’t speak. The physiotherapy sessions have helped him communicate again - he’s got his smile back now. He’s starting to move his toes and he can sit down by himself. For us, that may not be a big deal, but for him it’s essential. It’s a good enough reason for us to keep on helping him with physiotherapy.”
For Humam, there’s a direct link between Mohsen’s stroke and the conflict in Syria. “Fear, constant stress, the loss of my brothers, the fact that we’ve been displaced so many times, and our living conditions here... One day you’re living a normal life, the next you’re in this camp - we’ve been here for nearly four years now... It’s really taken its toll on our mental and physical health. My father is an old man. When the war started, he saw everything he’d ever achieved disappear in front of his eyes.” Mohsen looks at his son: he is obviously moved. As if to reassure him and without a word, he gets back to his rehabilitation exercises, with the help of Yasmine.