TRIPOLI, Lebanon, Dec 3 (UNHCR)—Each morning, Ahmad sets off on his moped from his home near the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on his way to work as a UNHCR refugee outreach volunteer, offering support and assistance to vulnerable Syrian refugees and Lebanese locals, many of whom have disabilities.
Ahmad, 31, knows only too well the importance of the work he does. Two years ago, while walking to his parents’ house in his hometown of Zabadani in Syria, the former construction worker was struck by a mortar blast and lost both of his legs. Despite finding safety a short time later as a refugee in Lebanon, he relied on help from others to see him through a trying period in his life.
Together with his wife and fellow volunteer Nazmiya—as well as his moped, which he customized himself to be able to ride it with his prosthetic legs—Ahmad now travels around Tripoli providing those in need with the same support that he found so valuable when he first arrived in Lebanon.
“I had people who stood by me, young Syrian men with disabilities who held my hand when I lost my legs, so I want to do the same, I want to give back,” he told visitors from UNHCR.
Aid organisations have estimated that among the more than four million refugees from the conflict in Syria, one in five has a physical, sensory or intellectual impairment. In situations of forced displacement, those with disabilities often face barriers to accessing services and are given few opportunities to play an active role in their communities.
Volunteers such as Ahmad and Nazmiya play a vital role as advocates for these individuals, helping to identify those at most risk, providing them with information and helping to reduce their sense of isolation.
“On this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, UNHCR is most grateful for the invaluable contributions made by Ahmad and Nazmiya and many others like them,” said UNHCR Representative for Lebanon Mireille Girard.
“In its work with displaced populations, UNHCR aims to ensure the equal rights of persons with disabilities and secure opportunities for their active participation in the lives of their families and communities,” she added
Nazmiya says the work that she and Ahmad do has not only provided help and inspiration to refugees and others with disabilities, but has also helped them come to terms with their own situation.
“As a family we were isolated, we used to have the minimum contact with people. Through the ROV program, we are in contact with people on daily basis,” she said. “It’s an empowering experience. When you see other people with vulnerabilities, it helps you to cope with your own.”
Ahmad still faces many difficulties in his life as a refugee. As the family’s main breadwinner he has to struggle to provide enough money to house and feed the couple and their 11-month old son, and he regularly suffers acute pain from his injuries despite the medication he is prescribed.
In spite of these challenges, Ahmad credits his work as a refugee volunteer with giving him a new perspective on life. “I discovered my talents after becoming disabled. I would have never known what I was capable of if it weren’t for this accident. With this, I challenged myself to the limits.”
By Carolina Mateos and Baraka Oweyna in Tripoli, Lebanon