Overcoming the Words ‘I can’t’: Adapting to Disability in Times of Displacement

Published: Jul 28, 2022 Reading time: 4 minutes
Overcoming the Words ‘I can’t’: Adapting to Disability in Times of Displacement
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“Saturday 28 April, 2012. I remember that date very well. At noon, I was going to the bakery to get bread on my motorcycle when I was shot.”

Before his injury, Ahmad owned a car repair shop in the countryside of western Aleppo. He was a skilled mechanic, and was comfortably able to support his family. “I built a good reputation. I had a dream to have a nice house and car. After I was injured, I lost these dreams.”

The bullet that put an end to his livelihood also left him paralysed from the waist down. What followed was a series of hospital admittances across Turkey and Syria. After 11 surgeries and sometimes life-threatening complications, Ahmad weighed less than half of what he did before the injury. “My body was exhausted. I felt like a test subject.” he said, “My body was so weak.”

Initially, Ahmad had hoped to regain the use of his legs, but as time passed this hope began to fade. “I had two options: either to give up or to adapt to my condition and fight.” Adamant that he would recover, Ahmad moved back into his home from his parents’ house where he had been staying. “I started physical therapy and did exercises at home. […] I wanted to move without any help.”

“I had two options: either to give up or to adapt to my condition and fight.”

As a result of his determination and regular physical exercise, Ahmad was eventually able to move without assistance. He initially relied on support from his parents and short-term humanitarian relief, but Ahmad was determined to provide for himself.

He opened a workshop where he repairs items like teapots, bowls, and other products. “People were amazed to see me, a disabled man, working. I built a good reputation due to my skills. People from outside the village came to my shop to fix their items. Day after day, I started depending on myself.”

“People were amazed to see me, a disabled man, working.”

This wasn’t to last, however. The encroaching frontlines and the accompanying violence drove Ahmad from the village where he lived and worked. When the fighting subsided, Ahmad and his family returned to find their hometown deserted. “[They] were like ghost villages. There wasn’t work any more; people did not dare risk reopening their shops. There were many displaced people who lived in our village, but after we were displaced they did not come back.”

Determined as ever, Ahmad searched for another job. “I heard about the Cash for Work (CFW) project and went to the local council to apply. [The officer] asked me if I was accepted, how would I move? I told him that I have a three-wheeled motorcycle that I modified myself. I was accepted onto the project and am now one of the most active workers.”

Ahmad refuses to let his disability hinder his ambition. “I have the will and determination to work. I don’t want to rely on others to support me. I have become a good example for people with disabilities like me. […] I deleted the words ‘I can’t’ from my dictionary. If you convince yourself that you can’t, you won’t be able to do anything.”

With the support provided by the CFW project, Ahmad was able to pay off his debts and prepare food supplies to help his family endure the harsh Syrian winter. Looking to the future, he hopes to one day reopen his car repair shop alongside his eldest son, who is now a trainee mechanic.

For a man of such determination, it is difficult to doubt that he will achieve his aims. But it is a long road that lies ahead; the cost of living is biting into Ahmad’s finances, as prices for everyday goods has soared in the last two years. At the same time, Ahmad, as much as he may fight against it, is still limited by his disability and is unable to work outside of his village.

But hope is a powerful thing. Ahmad has survived, at times, with little more than a whisper of hope and his unbreakable will, and he trusts that these qualities will see him through whatever he may encounter. “Once you lose hope, you cannot achieve anything. I am a determined person. When I set a goal, I work hard to achieve it.” he said.

Author: Kieran Seager, People in Need

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