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A Never-Ending Struggle

Afghanistan, July 11, 2002

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    Mercy Corps' orthopedic clinic in Quetta, Pakistan provides Afghan refugees with custom-made prosthetics, as well as social integration training. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps Photo:

Physical disabilities are rampant among the refugees of Afghanistan. In the camps and villages are the stark visual reminders of the toll that war and lack of access to basic healthcare has taken on these people. Men, women and children are all victims of this tragedy.

Landmines are a major culprit. The last 22 years of war have left Afghanistan and border areas littered with unexploded mines - in fields, front yards and on roadsides. The clean-up efforts have been ongoing, but it will be virtually impossible to clear them all. Ghousuddin, a Master Trainer for the Mercy Corps Balochistan Community Rehabilitation Program orthopedic clinic in Quetta, grimly noted, "In fighting no one is distributing halva." (Halva is a sweet dessert dish common in Pakistan and Afghanistan.)

Polio and other medical problems also claim their fair share of the disabilities that are so prevalent in the region. Vaccination programs and other forms of disability prevention, until recently, have largely been ignored. Today, the poor are the ones paying the price.

For the past year, Mercy Corps and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, have been operating an orthopedic workshop and physical rehabilitation clinic as part of the Balochistan Community Rehabilitation Program (BCRP). This program, based in Quetta, Pakistan near the Afghan border, is designed to provide refugees and the poor access to physiotherapy, orthotic and prosthetic services.

The BCRP takes a complete approach to disability treatment and awareness. There is a workshop with state-of-the-art equipment to produce custom-made prosthetics. Every patient is treated individually and prosthetic devices are designed based on the patient'ss specific needs. Patients are given extensive physiotherapy, as well as social integration training.

BCRP Master Trainer Ghousuddin was one of the BCRP's early patients. When he arrived in Quetta as a refugee from Ghazni, Afghanistan, he was unable to walk without crutches. As a child he had contracted polio, a disease that attacks the spinal cord and typically leaves the victim paralyzed. At the BCRP he was referred for surgical treatment. The BCRP provided him prosthetics for both legs and physiotherapy.

But, according to Ghousuddin, it was the social integration training that he received that completely changed his life. "Before I came to the BCRP I could not get around without crutches. But worse than the physical limitations was the frustration I felt at being completely dependent and useless. The BCRP not only gave me the ability to walk again without crutches, it gave me the confidence I needed to take control of my life." Since receiving his treatment at the BCRP, Ghousuddin has been hired to train and educate people from his refugee camp in disability prevention and landmine awareness.

Ghousuddin has spent the last several months educating refugees who will be retuning to Afghanistan on landmine awareness. The BCRP has developed a new training program that educates refugees on new types of landmines they may encounter when they return home, specifically cluster bombs used in the past year. "These new bombs are yellow, not green and black like the Soviet-era mines, and they are very sensitive," notes Ghousuddin.

At 22 years of age Ghousuddin is wise beyond his years. He plans to remain in Quetta, to work at the BCRP and educate his fellow Afghan refugees, hoping to save them from the suffering he had to endure. "The fighting will end, but this disability never will."