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Afghanistan: a long journey for Osman

11-03-2010 Feature

A land-mine cost Osman his legs and his brand-new job as a policeman. Going back to the old job was no option – herding sheep and cultivating crops from a wheelchair was hardly realistic. A chance meeting with an ICRC team changed everything. Today, Osman is walking again, on artificial legs from the ICRC rehabilitation centre in Herat.


  ©ICRC / v-p-af-e-01568    
  Herat Orthopaedic Centre, Afghanistan. Osman (left) takes part in a game of wheelchair basketball. He lost both legs to a landmine in 2008.    
  Osman (24) lives in Farestan, a village near Qal-i-Naw City in Badghis Province, north-west Afghanistan. Like many Afghans, he just has the one name, Osman. He learned to look after sheep from his father, starting when he was very young. His father considered sheep more important than an education, so Osman never went to school and still cannot read or write. But he had a flock of 30 sheep, sold the lambs at market and grew enough wheat on his own land to feed his family and generate an income. All in all a pleasant, quiet life in a small Afghan village.

In April 2008, Osman decided to join the Afghan National Police. " Just two months after I joined the police, I was asked to go to Bala Murgab district. That day changed my life forever. Our car drove over a mine, which exploded. I was in shock and unconscious. Apparently, I was taken by helicopter to the hospital in Qal-i-Naw, but I don't remember the journey. I don't even know what happened to my colleagues who were in the same car. What I do know is that I woke up 12 days later and realized I was in hospital. I lifted my right leg. It felt very light. I could sort of feel my left leg. Then I realized that both my legs had been amputated above the knee. "

Back in Farestan, life was difficult. " I had no idea what to do when I got home. Without legs, there was no way I could go back to farming. After a while, my father suggested I use my police disability pension to op en a grocer's shop in front of my house, selling things like tea, biscuits, and sweets. " Even getting hold of the basics was complicated. " I didn't have a wheelchair at first, so I sat on the ground using my hands to move around. Eventually I borrowed one. "

Things went on like this for about a year. Then, on 30 October 2009, an ICRC convoy coming back from a field trip stopped at Osman's shop. " Unknown to me, one of the ICRC drivers, an Afghan staff member from the area, told a delegate about my plight and asked if the ICRC could help me. " The team chatted with him, listened to his story and gave him some information on the ICRC's rehabilitation services.


  ©ICRC / v-p-af-e-01569    
  Herat Orthopaedic Centre, Afghanistan. Osman with physiotherapist Yvonne Jansen, who runs the centre. Osman lost both legs to a landmine in 2008.    

" I thought that was it, but the next morning at six o’clock when I was just opening my shop for the day, the ICRC convoy returned. They were on their way to Herat where the ICRC has a sub-delegation and a rehabilitation centre, known here as an Orthopaedic Centre. They offered to take me to the OC where I could be seen by professionals and get artificial legs. I had ten minutes to decide. The delegate was encouraging me to go, and my father was telling me I should stop thinking about my legs and accept the situation as God's will. I packed a bag and got into the Land Cruiser. "

At the centre, a physiotherapist examined him and immediately saw that the bone on his left stump was growing through the skin and was badly infected. That meant he needed an operation in Herat regional hospital, located next to the centre. His father was a little reluctant at first, but eventually the family agreed that the operation was in his best interests.

" I recovered well after surgery and was sent home for my wounds to heal. Two months later, I was back at the centre to begin the process of fitting my artificial legs.

Osman is glad he let himself be persuaded. " Now I can walk again. Having the operation and getting artificial legs was definitely the right decision. I'm a very active person who likes sports. I learned wheelchair basketball in Herat and I would like to continue playing in my village. "

Acquiring artificial legs has given Osman new optimism. " I'll carry on with the shop when I get home, but now I'll be able to stand on my own two feet! I want to do some work on my house and start a family. And I want to help my younger brother with the sheep. "

Physiotherapist Yvonne Jansen is in charge of the ICRC rehabilitation centre in Herat. As she says,'' Osman's courage in overcoming his adversity is an inspiration for the many Afghans who have suffered the same fate. "