“We need to live”

Last year, Jihan was severely burned when she was hit by a bombing in Mosul. A month ago, she fled the city with her family and took refuge in Hasansham camp, in Iraqi Kurdistan. One of Handicap International’s teams met with Jihan and suggested she take part in a physiotherapy session to learn some daily exercises, in order to ease her condition.

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Jihan in her family’s tent.

“We were all at home that day,” explains Jihan when we ask her about her accident. “The sun was setting and I’d gone to the kitchen to cook. Our house was hit and a missile exploded just in front of me.” She stops talking and shyly invites Diana, Handicap International’ social worker, to go with her to the back of the tent. She then takes off several layers of clothing to reveal parts of her arms, bust and shoulders, all completely burned.  “I was rushed to hospital and stayed there for over two weeks, but the doctors did a bad job of treating my injuries. Now my shoulder hurts and I’m in pain whenever I lift my arm.”

After she left the hospital, Jihan was taken to a rehabilitation centre for the seriously injured and stayed there for nine months. Other members of her family had similar experiences, including her little brother, who was blinded by shrapnel during the air attack. As soon as their health had improved, the family decided to flee to Mosul. “Apart from our injuries, it just wasn’t possible to live there anymore,” explains their mother Sheima. “Every day we saw public executions and we were always wondering when it was going to be our turn. We lived in constant fear.”

Jihan listening to Mohamad’s advice. © E. Fourt / Handicap International

The family initially fled from the west to the east of the city. Jihan and her family left at night, on foot, to avoid being spotted. Then, on 29 December, they finally arrived in Hasansham camp, in Iraqi Kurdistan. “The journey to arrive here was very difficult,” adds Sheima, “But thank God we survived.” Although the family is now safe, Jihan admits that life in the camp is far from ideal. The teenager would like to go back to school but she’s struggling to meet her family’s needs. “We have to live,” she says. “So even when I’m tired and my burns are hurting, I still have to work...”

Jihan is also aware that looking after her health is important for her future. She makes a point of doing the exercises Mohamad, Handicap International’s physiotherapist, is teaching her, which should help ease her suffering. When time allows, she likes to forget the present and dream of the future. As she tells us about her fiancé, still trapped in Mosul and who calls her as often as he can, a smile lights up her face, in stark contrast to her dark robes. Jihan hopes that they will soon be reunited and, before long, married. “Together we’ll look for a place where we can find peace again,” she says.

Jihan and her family in their tent. © E. Fourt / Handicap International


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