“Omar came to me yesterday and took his shirt off,” his father, Ali, tells us. “He pointed at his arm and said: ‘Look, I can open my arm!’”
The father beams with happiness when he tells us this. It’s a huge change from the first time we met him in October of last year. Back then, when we asked Ali what happened to his son, a routine question that we ask all of the families we work with to see whether a case fits our criteria or not, he became extremely emotional and couldn’t continue with the interview. It took us days to piece together what happened to his son.
What Omar and his family have been through
The family are Palestinian refugees that lived in Syria. Early on in the war, the camp where they lived was hit by airstrikes. Shrapnel exploded from the rocket and in the process the curtain next to Omar’s bed caught fire. He was asleep and the fire severely burnt his arm.
The family took Omar to the hospital, where he later had a surgery to treat the burn. The hospital did the best that they could, but his wound eventually got infected, sticking his underarm together. This locked his arm - meaning it could not grow.
Before meeting INARA, the family had resigned themselves to the fact that their son would likely be permanently disabled by this injury.
The family lived through this injury and tried to create some semblance of normalcy - even when their neighborhood came under siege. Ali mentions how painful it was seeing his children and his wife cower in their own home from the bullets, rockets, and the constant and incessant noise of conflict.
Once the siege ended, Ali packed his bags and said goodbye to his family, to try and find work in Lebanon. A couple of months later, his wife Mirvat and his children followed him, fearing for their lives in Syria. Mirvat had become very sick and needed medical help.
Seeking help in Lebanon
Once in Lebanon, Ali tried to find medical treatment for his son and his wife. “I was earning money but I still couldn’t cover the treatment. I went to numerous organizations in Lebanon to try and find help.”
It was at this point that one of their neighbours from Syria told them about how their daughter, Layla, had been treated by an NGO called INARA. He passed on their number to Ali, who called about Omar’s arm.
After an initial assessment, Omar was taken to the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC), where doctors performed a scar revision surgery to unlock his arm. Omar no longer has to face a future of disfigurement and disability.
Ali was very reluctant to accept help when we first met him. He told us in October that he didn’t call the INARA number given to him for months because he didn’t want someone to pity him. “I felt hopeless as a father, you know,” he explains. “Being unable to provide my son with this treatment was very difficult for me. But you never pitied us. You were always clear and nice to us. What you did was a great thing”
Speaking in the INARA offices, Ali is relieved to see how much happier his son is. Omar has regained full functionality of his arm. He is also now going to school and is starting to learn English. His father told us that this week he learnt about the Prophet Mohammad. He asked his son to tell us the story, but Omar was too shy to tell us.
The impact that this medical treatment had on the family isn’t just seen in the fact that Omar can now move his arm again. It’s seen in the relief that you can see on his father’s face. It’s seen in the fact that Omar is back at school and learning. And it’s seen in the shy smile that he has on his face as he waves goodbye to his caseworker.