Pakistan: Alina learns to walk again

18-05-2009 Feature

War in north-west Pakistan is causing more and more casualties. On a recent filming trip to the region, the ICRC's Jan Powell met 10-year-old Alina, who was badly injured in a bomb explosion and is now being treated in the ICRC's field hospital in Peshawar.

She manoeuvres the awkward metal walking frame carefully, leaning heavily on it, her face frowning with concentration. She makes slow but steady progress along the path of paving slabs. One foot drags, as she puts all her weight on the other. She is careful not to move the frame onto the gravel on either side of the path, and to avoid the pots of dusty green plants placed at regular intervals. Finally, she reaches her destination - a large white canvas tent which is the women's ward of the ICRC Surgical Hospital for Weapon Wounded in Peshawar. It has been Alina's home for the last two months.

We sit in the spring sunshine outside the tent and Alina tells me how she came to be a patient here. Her father is a shoemaker in Darra Adam Khel town in Khyber Agency, not far from the city of Peshawar in north-west Pakistan. She is the youngest in the family. Her mother is with her at the hospital, and she explains that her six brothers and three sisters are all staying with her grandma and aunties while she gets better. 

She hugs her legs as she tells me what happened on the day of the accident. She was going out of the house to play with her friends when there was a sudden massive explosion. ' It was all of a sudden,'she explains,'the bomb came and I had no idea if it came from the Army or the Taliban. I still do not know.' The explosion killed one of her friends outright. Alina was knocked unconscious and remembers little of what happened next. Both legs were struck by shrapnel and though her father took her to the local clinic, her wounds became infected, and her condition began to worsen. Finally, her father brought his daughter to Peshawar to seek help.

Alina is one of the around 50 patients currently being treated in the ICRC tented hospital in Peshawar. All are the victims of bomb blasts, bullet wounds, landmines and explosives - caused by the conflict taking place in FATA (Federally Controlled Tribal Areas) and NWFP (North-West Frontier Province).

The hospital was set up in February to treat weapon-wounded patients and, with the recent upsurge in fighting between government forces and armed groups in north-west Pakistan, it has expanded capacity to be able to care for up to a hundred casualties. As Dr Adnan, one of the Pakistani doctors working in the hospital, explained to me, ' We treat everyone, rich or poor, fighter or civilian, Muslim or Christian.' Like Alina, many of the casualties are civilians. Most have no other chance of getting treatment. The clinics and health posts in the conflict affected areas do not have the expertise needed to treat the complex wounds caused by bombs and bullets.

After two operations to remove the shrapnel, Alina is getting better. She is having physiotherapy and is gradually regaining the strength in her legs to walk again. As she sits outside the tented ward, she plays with nurse Linda Jury, who left her full time job in a Melbourne hospital to come and work in Peshawar.'It is sad seeing children in pain' she says,'but it is great to see her playing again. Alina is getting better and she is one of our success stories'.

Alina's blue cotton pyjamas swamp her small frame. She is looking forward to going home soon. When I ask her what she wants to do when she grows up, she grins shyly,'a school teacher.' But when I ask if she will be glad to get back to school again, her face changes. No, she says, she won't be going back to school, and neither will any of the other girls in her town in the foreseeable future - her school has been destroyed by the bombing.


See also the video: Alina's Story