The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan has worked in the country for over 30 years, helping the most vulnerable sector of the population in rural communities – including thousands of victims of conflict who have lost limbs during the ongoing war.
Known to help the needy, hundreds of disabled civilians show up at the organization’s orthopedic workshops around the country each year in the hope of being fitted with prosthetic limbs.
In Taloqan city, in Afghanistan’s northern Takhar province, about 250 civilian victims of conflict were either fitted with prosthetic limbs or provided wheelchairs last year alone, while a further 750 received the same help by the SCA around the country.
However, recently a very different war victim was brought to the Taloqan workshop.
A local resident, Mashal, who lost one of his legs in the war and subsequently had a prosthetic limb fitted by the SCA, rescued an injured deer. The animal had lost part of its left front leg.
Mashal, who is 20 years old, took the animal to the organization in the hope that they could do for the deer what they had done for him.
Mashal was fitted with a prosthetic leg a few years ago after losing his limb in a grenade explosion at the age of five, when his family’s home was caught in the cross fire of ground combat.
Mashal said: “When I first saw the deer, I was wondering if he would be able to walk along with his herd and fulfill his needs or not.”
Deciding to approach the SCA, Mashal took the deer to their workshop where their orthopedic technicians agreed to help.
Mohammad Zahir Yaqoobi, an SCA orthopedic technician at the Taloqan workshop, said it had been the first such case for them – in fact it might be the first time a deer has ever been fitted with a prosthetic leg in the world, said the SCA.
“Yes, it is the first time we are helping an animal and making a prosthetic limb for a deer. Based on our strategic plan, we make prosthetic limbs only for human beings. We have provided thousands of people with prosthetic limbs over the years in Afghanistan. Those who had been dependent and need walking aids are now using their prosthetic limbs and can fulfill their daily needs.”
Mashal meanwhile said he was happy he had made the decision to take the animal to the SCA as once the deer had been fitted with his new leg he “realized that now he can walk around and do things on his own which is great for him.”
According to an SCA spokesperson, Mashal is now taking care of the deer, whose progress will be monitored by the SCA.
Speaking about his own experience at having lost his leg at such a young age, Mashal said: “When I first lost my leg I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do stuff together with my friends, be able to work and study. Then when I got my first prosthetic limb, I was still not sure, because it wasn’t comfortable.
“But when I got my second prosthetic limb, I was much more comfortable and now I can do my daily things on my own and go far out with my friends and have fun.
He said he currently works as a tailor but is also studying and hopes to one day become an orthopedic technician himself.
“In the future, I want to become an orthopedic doctor, to help people and make prosthetic limbs. I understand the suffering of people who have a disability, because I also have it, so I will be able to make good prosthetic limbs for them. I am very committed and I love to play football and ride a bicycle,” he said.
He also said that when he first lost his leg he felt very alone and worried that he would not be able to lead a normal life.
“But when I went to the SCA’s orthopedic workshop, there I noticed people with more severe conditions than me and then I felt calm and realized there are people who are much worse off than me,” he said.
According to the SCA, it is estimated that there is a person with a disability in one in every five Afghan households.
Ignorance and prejudice mean that this group is often excluded from social contexts, schooling and health care and often suffer severe poverty and become dependent on others for their survival, said the SCA.
The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan works however to promote an inclusive social attitude towards this sector of society and runs schools for children with disabilities with the purpose of eventually being able to integrate them into a regular classroom and give them opportunities to participate in the community.
Teachers are educated in the rights of children with disabilities as well as in Braille and sign language and teachers, religious leaders, councils of elders and other influential people are invited to information meetings so that they can gain enough knowledge and motivation to pursue the issue of the right to education for children with disabilities.
The SCA stated that when it plans and builds health centers and clinics, they ensure that health and personnel facilities are accessible to people with disabilities.
In a special report issued last week by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the organization stated that it was seriously concerned about the increasing use of IEDs against civilians.
According to the report, UNAMA said in the first nine months of this year, 3,634 civilian casualties were recorded – 1,065 killed and 2,569 wounded – in suicide and non-suicide attacks.
It is the wounded that so often lose limbs in these explosions – and according to the report, between 1 January and 30 September 2018, civilian casualties from attacks with all types of IED attacks increased by 21 percent compared with the same period in 2017.
It is here where the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan plays such an important role.
Last year, in Taloqan alone, about 300 people received prosthetic limbs at the SCA workshop. Of this, about 250 had been victims of conflict.
In addition, the Taloqan workshop provided orthopedic aid, training and prosthetics to 2,792 persons in 2017.
Nationally the SCA provided prosthetic limbs and other mobility aids such as wheelchairs and tricycles to 1,022 persons in 2017 and among those 735 were victims of conflict.
The organization said that of the total number of people who received prosthetics and other mobility aids, 72 percent were victims of conflict.
Since the start of the orthopedic workshop in Taloqan in 1992, 44,030 people have been helped – with around 6,000 having been victims of conflict who received prosthetic limbs.
The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan is a Swedish civil society organization and has worked in Afghanistan since 1982.
It has five regional offices covering 14 provinces in the northern, eastern and central parts of the country and has five orthopedic workshops in the country, that provides aids, training and support to around 15,000 people.