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“I want people to be aware of the risk of putting civilians in the middle of war”

Emergency Inclusion Rehabilitation

Marwa is living in Germany. She fled the conflict in Syria where she was injured and is now using a wheelchair. She tells how she has coped with her disability.

Marwa speaking at a conference on bombing in populated areas in Vienna last January.

Marwa speaking at a conference on bombing in populated areas in Vienna last January. | © HI

Marwa will speak on April 23th at the Oslo conference against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Invited by Humanity & Inclusion (HI), she will emphasize the importance of assisting the victims of bombing and shelling.

How did you decide to become an occupational therapist?

When my accident happened, 8 years agao, I was 24, in Syria where there was no occupational therapy, only physiotherapy. After my accident, the medical team helped me rebuild my muscles, but I didn’t learn how to do everything independently. I didn’t learn how to navigate life with my wheelchair - and it was a completely new life.

So, two years later, I left for Germany. There, I met a man who was also using a wheelchair and was an occupational therapist. He showed me how he could do everything alone, which was surprising and overwhelming for me. I couldn’t comprehend how he managed to be so independent - how he could go outside alone, dress himself, transfer alone from the bed to a chair, or be at home without anyone's help.

It was a revelation. It made me realise that I could rebuild myself and regain the ability to stand alone. And I thought "I want to teach others how to do everything alone, even the smallest details." It's all about techniques, which aren't as complicated as we perceive them to be - it's a mental barrier more than anything else. Once you learn the right techniques, it becomes manageable. You don’t need strong muscles; you just need to know the proper methods.

What was it like before, when you always needed someone beside you, like your mother or brother? How did it work within your family?

Previously, I always wanted someone with me for everything. For example, I used to try to dress myself in bed, which was incorrect. Now, I can do it in my wheelchair, which saves time. The transfer to the car used to seem complicated in my mind. In Syria, it didn't work; I couldn't do it. I spent two years trying, and eventually, my family would lift me into the car. It was burdensome for them, and I felt sorry that they had to assist me. Now, I can do it in seconds.

It was both a lack of confidence in my abilities and not knowing the correct techniques that caused the mental block. When you feel like you don't know the right way, you hesitate to try again. You fear failing repeatedly, which reinforces the idea that you'll never succeed. It becomes a cycle of doubt and dependency.

Do you remember any activities you gave up a few years ago but have since resumed?

I never used to go outside alone. Accessibility in Syria is also an issue. However, in Germany, it was much easier to navigate. As for sports, I used to dance tango and fence before my accident, but now, with studies and other responsibilities, I haven't been able to engage in sports activities.

How did you feel psychologically when you found out that you were going to be disabled and unable to walk again?

I was in shock. I didn't cry for the first three to five months - I didn't fully grasp the situation. I saw my friends and family crying, but they didn't explicitly tell me the severity of my condition. It took time for me to understand the gravity of the situation, and I think I went into depression after about six months to a year. I wore metaphorical black glasses: I was unable to see a future for myself.

When I arrived in Germany, I still held onto hope, believing that the best doctors and hospitals would find a solution. However, a professor in orthopaedics shattered that hope with honesty - he told me I would never walk again. It was a turning point where I accepted the reality of my situation. I sank into deep depression, but eventually, I realised that I needed to find a way to live the rest of my life. It was a decision I made after observing others and realising that I deserved to have a fulfilling life.

Why did you agree to participate in the Oslo conference in April?

I want to share my story so people are aware of the consequences of putting civilians in the midst of war. I want them to understand that when they decide to bomb cities, nobody is safe at home. By sharing my experiences, I hope to raise awareness and initiate conversations about the impact of war on civilians.

Date published: 17/04/24


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