Disabled individuals dedicate their lives to humanitarian work in northern Syria

Volunteer for the Syria Civil Defense Hassan al-Talfah sits, with his prosthetic limb next to him, to rest after rescuing people trapped under the rubble following the earthquake in the countryside of Idlib - February 12, 2023 (Hatim al-Khader/Facebook)

Volunteer for the Syria Civil Defense Hassan al-Talfah sits, with his prosthetic limb next to him, to rest after rescuing people trapped under the rubble following the earthquake in the countryside of Idlib - February 12, 2023 (Hatim al-Khader/Facebook)


Enab Baladi – Reem Hamoud

“I have never regretted my involvement in voluntary work, despite being injured during the removal of unexploded ordnance,” said Hassan al-Talfah, a volunteer for the Syria Civil Defense rescue agency, expressing his determination to remain part of the unexploded ordnance removal teams.

Al-Talfah was not the only one whose body bore the scars of war while volunteering in humanitarian work and who did not surrender to reality. Enab Baladi reached out to three individuals with disabilities whose injuries led them to engage in humanitarian work.

With the start of the events of the Syrian revolution in March 2011, the culture of volunteering spread widely, and volunteers actively engaged with humanitarian and relief organizations to assist the Syrians and alleviate their suffering in various ways.

In this report, Enab Baladi sheds light on the contribution of people with disabilities in the field of humanitarian work and their dedication to volunteering despite all the difficulties and obstacles they face. Their main goal is to do their utmost in serving others.

Challenges as a motivation

After individuals sustain injuries that cause changes in their natural movement or the loss of one of their body parts, the difficulties accompanying their determination to engage in volunteer work and prove their presence in society increase. Hassan al-Talfah, a 29-year-old from Kafr Zita in the northern Hama countryside, is one such example.

Al-Talfah was injured in 2014 while removing unexploded ordnance, resulting in the loss of his left leg and damage to his right leg’s bones. However, the incident that occurred became a motivation for him not to surrender to the injury and to continue his volunteer work.

Al-Talfah explained to Enab Baladi that the injury occurred after he stepped on an unexploded ordnance from cluster bomb remnants covered with grass and not visible.

After his injury, some people around him talked about his inability to return to volunteer work, which created a significant challenge for him to prove that the loss of his leg does not hinder him or prevent him from contributing to humanitarian work, according to his conversation with Enab Baladi.

The decision to return to work came after a treatment period that lasted about a year and a half, and his response to the need during that period to volunteer to save lives through unexploded ordnance removal. However, this decision was not easy or without difficulties.

Since the start of the Syrian revolution in 2011, Syria has witnessed an increase in the number of injured and disabled individuals, reaching 28% of the population, according to a report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) issued in 2022.

Al-Talfah is not the only person who defied society and his injury to achieve his dreams. Wissi, from the town of Menagh in northern Aleppo countryside, was motivated by his injury to establish an environment suitable for the injured in northern Syria.

Wissi Hijazi, 31, one of the war-wounded, told Enab Baladi that he suffered several injuries, with the most significant impact occurring in 2012 when his spinal cord was damaged, resulting in paralysis. However, continuous physical therapy has slightly improved his health condition.

After receiving treatment, Hijazi learned to walk in a different way by relying on someone else due to his inability to use medical crutches because of another injury to his left hand and the difficulty of using it, he told Enab Baladi.

Hijazi’s injury and his sense of the needs of disabled individuals led him in 2019 to establish the “People of Determination” association in Azaz city in the northern Aleppo countryside, with the aim of empowering this segment of society.

When Hijazi started volunteering, he faced criticism from his family and attempts to convince him to give up this activity. However, his sense of determination was stronger, according to his expression.

Challenges are present

According to the volunteers, the work of disabled individuals in the field of volunteering is not without difficulties. At times, they have to perform movements that do not suit their injuries and are sometimes difficult to execute due to their nature.

One of the difficulties faced by the three young men contacted by Enab Baladi is walking for long hours, as it exhausts the injured area, causing complications at times. The only solution is to take a rest or use painkillers until the pain subsides.

Jassim Sulaiman from the village of al-Asharnah spoke to Enab Baladi about severe pain he endures while volunteering with the “MAPS” organization in northern Syria. This pain is a result of an injury that caused a shortening in his right leg of about 10 centimeters, requiring the installation of an artificial joint in his thigh.

Sulaiman’s injury in 2013 completely changed his life, but it did not prevent him from attempting to engage in volunteer work again after a seven-year break. He now works in the organization, collecting information, distributing aid and cash assistance, and conducting vocational training, which requires standing for long periods, as he mentioned to Enab Baladi.

When Sulaiman decided to return and apply for volunteer work with organizations in northern Syria, he was not welcomed by some of them, without specifying their names “to avoid problems.” The reason, as he mentioned, was their perception of his movement due to the injury.

Sulaiman informed Enab Baladi that sometimes he is assigned difficult tasks by the organization’s management, which negatively affects his mental state. However, this pushes him to challenge his pain and prove that he is capable of executing the tasks. One of the significant difficulties he faces is the inability to handle logistical work, such as transporting aid and others.

Hassan al-Talfah also faces similar challenges, among them the feeling of “severe pain” after walking for long hours while wearing his prosthetic limb, which sometimes leads to complications such as low blood pressure, according to his statement to Enab Baladi.

Al-Talfah said that he writes reports about the stories of those injured by unexploded ordnance in the Syria Civil Defense. Listening to these stories has a positive or negative impact on his psyche, especially when comparing his situation with those cases.

According to the stories shared by the two young men with Enab Baladi, volunteering for individuals with different injuries comes with both difficulties and mixed positive and negative experiences. They often draw energy from these stories when they feel weak or tired.

Society’s perspective

Wissi Hijazi believes that certain individuals in his surrounding community have formed a stereotypical image of disabled people by underestimating their ability to perform certain tasks. 

He refers to their labeling of disabled individuals as “helpless,” which comes across as an indirect message that summarizes the disregard for their abilities. This is what Hijazi dislikes hearing the most, according to his expression.

After his injury, Hijazi became more productive, and his life changed for the better in all aspects. He believes that physical disability is not an indication of helplessness, while mental disability may be the true obstacle.

Based on Hijazi’s experience in volunteer work with the “People of Determination” association, he mentioned that the terminology used by society has a negative impact on the psychological well-being of the injured individuals. Avoiding such terms and improving the psychological state of the injured is a duty of their families, friends, or humanitarian organizations.

From his perspective, psychological support plays a significant role in building a healthy personality for injured individuals and motivating them to integrate into society. He noticed this during the training workshops provided by his association for injured individuals of different ages.

December 5 marks International Volunteer Day, established by the United Nations in 1985 to recognize the efforts of volunteers worldwide and acknowledge the importance of collective work while encouraging more people to join volunteer work.

According to a report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in 2021, 36% of Syrian refugees are disabled, coming from areas heavily bombed by the Syrian regime and its Russian ally. They reside in northeastern and northwestern Syria, and many of them work to support their families despite their injuries.


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