Sitting in an office in London (or anywhere in the UK) it is hard to picture what life might be like on the Syrian/Turkish border, so close to a brutal conflict which has been raging for over 6 years and has shattered the lives of millions of Syrians. The last thing you might imagine being greeted with at a prosthetic limb clinicin Reyhanli, less than 20km from Syria, is a smiling face and a cup of hot sweet tea (or earthy Turkish coffee if you prefer). But this is what we meet in May 2017, as usual Syrian hospitality is second to none. The staff here, including doctors, technicians and administration, are all Syrian and like the 100 or so patients they treat per month across three clinics, have suffered immeasurably as a result of the conflict. In spite of this, they work to give others who have lost so much physically, a sense of hope, the possibility of returning to work or simply being able to move more comfortably.
These are some of the people whose salaries Hands Up funds with the generous donations received from donors. Each time we visit, the value of the work they do is reinforced and there is no doubt in our minds that this is money well spent.
The number of amputees in Syria was estimated to be over 30,000 in 2016 and with continuing airstrikes as well as the difficulty of crossing the border into Turkey, the two clinics inside Syria are receiving more and more patients. In Reyhanli, Turkey, we meet Osman who lost his arms below the elbow in an airstrike 4 years ago. Today he is having a new mechanical prosthetic fitted. The thumb is operated by a wire attached to his shoulder blades which will allow him to grip and hold things. A prosthetic arm like this costs around $800, and that amount includes the manufacture and fitting of the limb as well as physiotherapy – a small price to pay for opposable thumbs and some dignity.
Leaving the clinic, the overriding feeling is not one of pity or even sympathy for staff and patients, but admiration; for their resilience, their courage and their contagious sense of humour. These are powerful chinks of light in a very bleak situation.
Hands Up is continuing to fund these three clinics run by the NSPPL throughout 2017.