The Syrian civil war is an ongoing armed conflict in Syria between the Syrian Ba’ath Party government and those seeking to overthrow it. It began in March 2011 when protesters demanding the release of political prisoners were shot dead by security forces. This triggered several months of violent unrest that had spread nationwide. Despite the government’s attempt to quell the tension, conflict continued and over several months, it had escalated into a civil war that still rages today. UN sources have reported that the two year uprising has left 5 million in need of aid.
As the conflict between the oppositions continues, it leaves many dead and many more injured by the ongoing catastrophic events. An estimated 9,000 people have died in the first year and to date, the war’s death toll exceeds over 70,000 – with the monthly death toll having risen to about 5,000 this year, from 1,000 previously in 2011.
With such figures on the increase, as well as requests from Arab doctors working with us at Russells Hall Hospital, Naya Qadam agreed to host a limb fitting camp to help the Syrian refugees. Revisions of our plan were carried out and local fundraising followed. In addition to this, we also performed background work on the patients, who came in contact via a poster circular. The required details, including sex, location, illness and conditions (such as diabetes) etc, were entered into a computer spreadsheet. When the necessary documentation was finalised and approved, the plan for Viquar Qurashi and Ambreena Qurashi to travel to Istanbul and then to Reyhanli went ahead.
A team of 4 males and 2 female technicians from Pakistan accompanied us on our flight to Istanbul. Like every success story there is a mishap and in our case, it was a serious one. After 12 hours of waiting at the airport for a plane to Hathay, Turkey, one of the shoulder bags of the female technician was stolen by professional pickpockets – the bag contained the group’s passports, phones, documents and cash, so it was no surprise we panicked. After informing the police authorities and identifying the perpetrator on the CCTV footage, we had already missed our planned flight to Istanbul and so we slept in the airport lounge, waiting yet again for our next flight at 6am.
We had arranged a contact in Turkey to meet us at the airport upon our arrival, who would then direct us to a rent accommodation service where we booked 4 sharing rooms. Separately we also rented out 2 rooms in the vicinity of Hathay Hospital as part of our headquarters, and after unpacking our belongings and a brief introduction to our host – who spoke no English but fluent Arabic, whereas we spoke fluent English and no Arabic! – we embarked on what would be one of the longest expeditions carried out by Naya Qadam.
The beauty of our limb is that it is made from locally available materials, of which includes HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) pipes. Despite their simplicity, the prostheses have performed to a level that has deemed them fit for their intended application. Furthermore if we consider the economy of their construction, the designs used in the production of these limbs are a cost effective method and more ideal to the rural lifestyle of our patients – where agriculture is the primary employment. Components that were not supplied locally in market areas were carried within our suitcases.
Furthermore, the beauty of this project was the ongoing transfer of technology, whereby trainees from various establishments were trained by Naya Qadam – thus enabling them to become more informed and employable with such skills.
At the beginning of the expedition, 10 males and 6 females were selected as trainee technicians who were from the local community, keen to continue with the vocation once Naya Qadam had left. During a normal working day at the campsite, from 8 to 9am, an hour session was dedicated to trainees learning about the practical and theory aspects.
Further theory sessions were conducted in the evening. The rest of the day was spent in the workshop, training individuals to manufacture the prosthetic limbs that Naya Qadam had designed – developing their skills to better understand the process that Naya Qadam undertakes to ensure a high quality prosthesis to those in need. Examinations and assessments have followed since their training to certify the trainees’ education. The education of trainees is one of the ways in which Naya Qadam aims to promote the longevity their work and provide the foundations for a legacy that we aim to create.
Each patient was individually assessed, such as weight bearing areas, circumference of the thigh, the identification of pressure points and contour mapping of the stump. These measurements were necessary to ensure a tailored fit for patients’ prosthesis, which were made right in front of them as they waited. To the amazement of the local community the first limb was made with 24 hours of our arrival.
One of the first patients we had played football, rode a bicycle, climbed a tree in front of a crowd in the town centre. News of us and our motives spread like wildfire; patients from around the region and press came to visit us. Officials from the Turkish Red Cross came too, giving their support for our course and purpose.
The local population was quite welcoming, but no time for entertainment or touring the nearby places of interests as there was work to be done. We worked hard for 7 days, satisfying all sorts of customers of various age groups. Other volunteers also arrived to help us, such as physiotherapists, translators, theatre technicians and doctors.
Our recent visit to Reyhanli in Turkey saw us fit limbs to 114 people. Furthermore we are pleased to announce that our expedition and voluntary assistance to the refugees has not gone unnoticed. On the 12th March 2013, BBC and ITV broadcasted the work that Naya Qadam has done, illustrating our active participation in providing aid for these Syrian refugees.