Afghanistan: hope rising from the ashes
Injuries from landmines over the last 25 years have left an estimated 100,000 or more Afghan people handicapped. Scattered throughout the country, landmines bring sudden and unexpected tragedy to many families. This is the story of Saddiq Ali, whose shattered life the ICRC is helping to rebuild.
Saddiq Ali was born almost 15 years ago in Follady Valley, in the province of Bamyan. The region is crossed by the Follady river, flowing down from the Baba Mountains which branch out from the Hindu Kush. Water from the river irrigates the valley’s farmland and in spring and summer the lush green fields and surrounding trees add to the r ichness of the natural landscape.
Several small villages are scattered about the valley and most of the villagers raise crops and livestock to feed their families. During winter, when temperatures can plummet to minus 35°C, people mostly stay within the walls of their clay houses waiting for the return of spring.
On a spring day in 2005, Saddiq was walking from his home to the village of Dragon Valley – a 90-minute trek – to visit his aunt. Approaching the village, he saw some of his friends playing outside. Rushing down the hillside to join them, he was unaware that he was running into a field of landmines, planted during the 1980s. Without warning, a deafening explosion tore his breath away and, after several moments of intense pain, Saddiq lost consciousness.
The villagers rushed to help him and he was eventually transported to Bamyan central hospital. The explosion had blown away both of Saddiq’s legs. At first he could not understand what it meant for him, but as realization gradually took hold, he was overwhelmed with sadness and fear for the future. How would he walk to school now? How would he get around outside the house? How would he one day work to help his family? Would he be forgotten by everybody?
After a few months, during which Saddiq and his family heard of the ICRC’s help for amputees, Saddiq met with Habib Hussaini, head of the ICRC office in Bamyan. Traveling in an ICRC vehicle, Saddiq was taken to the Ali Abad rehabilitation centre in Kabul, one of six ICRC physical rehabilitation centres in Afghanistan largely devoted to helping landmine victims. Here he received two artificial legs and, over the next three months, treatment and training on how to walk with his new limbs.
Returning to Follady Valley, he felt like a new kid. He was so happy that he could walk to school again. Like other patients at ICRC rehabilitation centres in Afghanistan, Saddiq receives regular check-ups, going back every so often to the Ali Abad clinic to renew his artificial legs. Each time, he comes back home with a smile and the strength to continue fighting for his education and future.
“Now I can walk again to school. My school is about 30 minutes away from my home and I manage to do it slower than before, but I do not mind,” he says, adding, “It even gives me more strength to continue with my studies. I want to become a doctor to offer my services to others like me.”
He also talks about his new ideas: “I think that for people like me, we should have donkeys to trans port us, so we can arrive on time at school.”
Saddiq is sad that he can no longer play football. “It is bothering to me that I cannot play,” he says, “but on the other hand, after the rehabilitation, I have learnt to do a few things and I am proud that I can still help my family.”
On how the problem of disability is perceived by those around him, Saddiq reflects, “At times people look at me in a strange way, and there are some unpleasant moments. At school, some boys throw insults at me and use unfriendly names about my disability. But I will help change that.”