Giles Duley: “Rehabilitation gave me hope”
British photographer Giles Duley knows the importance of physical rehabilitation all too well, both through the people with disabilities he has met in conflict zones around the world, and his own personal experience. Whilst working in Afghanistan in 2011, Giles was severely injured in an explosion, losing both his legs and an arm. But after more than a year of surgery and rehabilitation, he was back at work and more determined than ever to document the lives of people affected by conflict.
We asked Giles to tell us what rehabilitation means to him...
Giles Duley with Bana, her sister, and the HI team in Lebanon. | © Tom Shelton/HI
Rehabilitation gave me hope.
After undoing such a life changing accident, I questioned what value my "new life" would have. In hospital, something as basic as sitting up or turning on my side seemed nearly impossible. What future could I possibly have?
Rehabilitation taught me how to cope with my new situation and eventually gave me the strength to return to a life as fulfilled as before I got injured. It helped me rebuild my life. Without rehabilitation, you lose hope.
When Reem's house in Syria was bombed, her husband and daughter were killed and Reem lost a leg. She ended up isolated, living in a tent on the roof of a building in Lebanon. Overcome with anxiety and depression, she didn't want her other three children to see her. But after being fitted with a prosthetic leg and working with HI's physiotherapists, Reem took her first steps downstairs to go outside for the first time. She is now reunited with her children. © Giles Duley/HI
The needs of people with disabilities are too often ignored
One big story that you don’t hear about in the media generally, in all war situations and humanitarian catastrophes, is the impact on people with disabilities, whether they be injuries from that particular crisis or longer-term disabilities.
It’s very daunting to suddenly have to deal with having lost a limb or to be permanently in a wheelchair, especially if you’re in a new country away from people that you know and potentially feeling quite isolated.
Lebanon, a country of four million people, has had its infrastructure pushed to near breaking point in the last few years due to the arrival of over one million Syrian refugees. Schools, hospitals, housing, water are struggling - and sadly in this environment it is often those most in need who go without.
Some of Syria’s most vulnerable refugees live in Lebanon; those with disabilities, the elderly, single parents - and yet their needs are too often ignored.
Khouloud, from Syria, was in the garden with her children when she was shot by a sniper. She was left paralysed from the neck down. Now living with her family in a shack in Lebanon, she relies on her husband to exercise her muscles every day. As well as providing Khouloud with a bed and other equipment, HI's team trained her husband in wound care and physiotherapy exercises. © Giles Duley
Ending the isolation
One of the most important things that Humanity & Inclusion (formerly Handicap International) is giving people is a sense of hope and not being forgotten.
You could see from every person I met that when their HI physiotherapist arrived for their treatment it really made people feel that they weren’t isolated and there was support for them. That gives people hope which is the greatest thing you can in a situation like that.
Rebuilding independence and self-esteem
There are two essential benefits of rehabilitation for the disabled or injured. First is the practical. Rehabilitation can help ease the strains of daily life - from giving more independence, easing the workload on family carers and often enabling a return to work and income. There are many cases of injured of disabled refugees who are simply held back from living full lives because of the lack of rehabilitation.
Secondly rehabilitation helps psychologically. It’s an essential part of the process of mental recovery, rebuilding self-esteem and helping disabled people live with dignity.
Bana, from Syria, was accidentally shot in the chest by another 5-year-old child who had found a gun. Traumatised, she needed support from our psychologist before she was able to start physiotherapy sessions. But slowly she came out of her shell and started to smile and play again. © Giles Duley/HI
You can never give up, never
A physio said to me early on, “this is not going to be easy.” It was simple, realistic advice that I always kept in the back of my mind.
Rehabilitation is not easy - it can be painful, exhausting - and at times the task may seem impossible - but you can never give up, never. Because the reward is to regain your independence and your life.
Never give up.
Bashar was hit by shrapnel from a bomb blast while fleeing the fighting in Syria with his family. His left leg was shattered. Already suffering from childhood arthrithis, he didn't get medical care soon enough and his legs got weaker from lack of use. HI's team in Jordan found him in desperate need of rehabilitation and took action to stop his condition deteriorating further. His recovery was painful and slow, but his family helped him do his exercises every day. Finally he could stand again with orthotic supports - his first step to walking again unaided. © Giles Duley/HI
Watch Unreported World: "The Invisible People"
Giles Duley presents a must-see, heart-breaking documentary about disabled refugees who have fled the war in Syria. You can watch here on the Channel 4 website.