With determined concentration, Maria reaches for the wooden blocks. Her arm is bandaged, and her small fingers are attached to a wire frame with elastic bands. Very slowly, she manages to make and control her first movements. The physiotherapist praises the five-year-old Syrian girl. She turns around to her mother, full of pride.
It is a small miracle that Maria can move her right arm at all, especially her fingers. She owes this to the highly specialised doctors at the Weapons Traumatology and Training Center (WTTC) in the Lebanese city of Tripoli. The clinic is run by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), for which Germany is one of the most important donors. The aid organisation is supported with funds from the humanitarian aid budget of the Federal Foreign Office. As part of the German government’s wide-ranging humanitarian aid efforts in the region, more than 150 million euros have been made available since 2012 for such aid in Lebanon alone. The facility in Tripoli treats only complicated war wounds, like that of Maria.
The little girl was on the roof of her house in Aleppo when it was hit by an air strike of the Syrian regime and its allies. A piece of shrapnel hit Maria’s right arm. “It was almost completely severed,” her mother Samira Hussein Mohammed says. She grabbed Maria and ran to the hospital. Maria had two operations in Syria. Although her arm was attached to her body, it hung lifeless and crippled at her side. Maria did not want to go outside any more. The other children were afraid of her. “The situation was so bad that I wanted to sell my own kidney to pay for a new operation for Maria.”
Only after fleeing to Lebanon did Samira learn that Maria could be treated at the WTTC. Not only would her treatment be free, but the family would even receive a small stipend to help tide it over during the treatment, which takes several months. “We also want to give patients back hope in their future,” says the British surgeon Paul Ley, who has operated on Maria several times. “Our goal is for them to be able to live productive and independent lives.”
Treatment of war wounds is something the ICRC is specialised in. Being able to live as healthy and independent a life as possible is important not only for every single wounded person, but also for the society and future of a country. “If you want, at some point, to rebuild a country, then you will need active people who are capable of doing so,” Fabrizio Carboni says, who is Head of the ICRC Delegation in Lebanon.
The number of Syrians who are no longer capable of this is also so high because “restricting access to medical care in Syria is increasingly being used as a weapon,” Carboni explains. The ICRC is doing its best to get medical supplies and equipment needed for operations to clinics in war-torn areas. Still, injured persons can often receive only limited care in field hospitals. This in turn has led to many bone infections, badly performed amputations, incompletely healed fractures and constant pain.
This is also the story of Bashira Arash from the Syrian city of Homs. The 56-year-old widow was injured while trying to escape during a bombing raid. She was blinded by the dust that filled the air. As a result, she did not see the street light standard coming as it fell on her, breaking her arm.
After an operation in Homs, the arm became infected and stiffened up completely. There was no way she could return to her job of knitting in a small workshop. “I was truly desperate, because I was afraid I would need an amputation, and that I would lose a part of my body,” Bashira says. She has had five operations so far at the WTTC. A metal frame is implanted in her arm. But she can move it again, and the pain is almost completely gone. “I can hardly wait to get back to knitting,” she says. “It’s part of who I am. I love my job,” she continues, while laughing. “And I love being independent.”