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Special Fund for the Disabled: Ethiopian landmine victim wants to be a doctor

28-11-2008 Feature

Tesfahun Hailu from Ethiopia lost his leg and part of his arm six years ago in a landmine accident. Thanks to an artificial leg provided by the ICRC Special Fund for the Disabled, Tesfahun was able to return to school. Now 19, he is determined to become a doctor.


  Tesfahun Hailu is fitted for a new prosthesis at the Prosthetic Orthotic Centre.    

 How old were you when you lost your leg?  

I lost my leg when I was thirteen years old – six years ago. I was playing with a landmine that my friends and I had found. I was curious. I heard some rattling and wanted to see what was inside. When I tried to open it, it exploded.

I remember it very clearly. Surprisingly, I didn't feel any pain, probably because the nerves in my leg were burned. I mostly felt shock because it happened so fast and I didn't expect it.

I live in a small village and it took a while to get treatment. We first had to see the police, to report the accident. When we reached the hospital, 25 minutes away, they told me I couldn't be treated there. I had to go to another hospital that could help me.

My mother died when I was 5 years old so I was always working, doing odd jobs like shoe shining. After the accident I wondered how I could continue to work.


 Is it difficult walking with an artificial leg?  

I was so eager to walk. When the limb-fitting centre gave me my first artificial leg, I started running and the thing broke! But it wasn't difficult to learning how to walk with an artificial leg. I could do it immediately, even though the first one was heavy and not very comfortable. I later learned about the Special Fund for the Disabled and about the Prosthetic Orthotic Centre that made lighter ones, which made walking much easier.

I have had to get a new leg every six months. There have been seven so far, because I’ve grown so quickly. I'm one metre ninety now, but I don't think I will have to go to the Centre so often because I’ve stopped growing.


 Has the Centre looked after you well?  


All the people at the centre have looked after me – they’re like family now. They don't just fit artificial limbs, they want to make sure I'm doing well. They give me advice if I need it and a lot of encouragement, especially with my studies. They’ve really made a difference in my life.

  Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Prosthetic Orthotic Centre.    

 What advice can you give other people in a similar situation?  

First, people need to learn about the dangers of landmines. Both parents and children must know what can happen if they hold or play with one. If they are injured like me, they need to accept that they are disabled and not let it defeat them.

A lot of disabled p eople sit at home and feel useless because society doesn't give them a chance. But if they are given a chance they can really lead full and active lives. They must exercise and practice using their artificial limbs so they can be independent.

Even with a disability, you can do almost everything, but it does take hard work. Me, I plan to go to university to study to become a doctor. In the village where I live, there is only one doctor for 6,000 people. We need more doctors.