Inside Syria: Overcoming a disability to thrive under siege

Hamdou Hussein Nabhan at his vegetable plot in Northern Homs, Syria

Hamdou Hussein Nabhan, a 40-year-old father of five small children, lives in Northern Homs, a besieged area in central Syria. For 38 years of his life, he enjoyed good health, working as a miller to support his family – until the day when his workplace was hit by an airstrike, leaving him severely injured.

“I was taken to the hospital immediately, and had to undergo surgery on my left foot. Months of physiotherapy and pain followed, but my foot never fully recovered,” Hamdou explains.

The accident took from me the ability to walk normally, but it also took my job, as I was not fit to continue working in the mill.

The Nabhan family and thousands of other civilians are trapped in and between the towns of Northern Homs. All have been affected by the war. Many of the population of around 250,000 have been left unemployed and without livelihoods. The siege has caused poverty rates to skyrocket, and frequent shelling and airstrikes have resulted in high rates of civilian casualties and psychological trauma.

In spring 2017, to counter high unemployment and poverty rates in the area, CARE’s partner Emissa initiated a farming project, providing some of the most vulnerable families in the besieged area with agricultural inputs such as seeds and tools so they can plant and harvest their own vegetables. Hamdou says:

I had been unemployed since the accident and had lost all hope of providing my family with a decent life again.

“When Emissa approached me, offering me work in a farming project that would help me secure an income while working with my own hands, I started to feel optimistic for the first time since my injury.”

Farming in the context of war and aid dependency is not an easy task and the family had to overcome several obstacles. However, the agricultural project has brought the whole family together and created moments of joy and peace for them. Hamdou says:

The field has become my sixth child and whenever it is time to reap, my other children participate in harvesting the vegetables as if it was a game, full of excitement and joy.

Taking care of the land has also helped Hamdou rise to the challenge of coping with his physical disability. “Farming helps me to forget about my handicap,” he says. “I do everything in the field myself: I prepare the land, I plant the seeds, I water them and harvest the vegetables with the help of my wife and children.”

When I work on my land, the disability is not an obstacle anymore.

Hamdou adds that the project has not only given him a livelihood – it has also given him back his dignity: “For the first time, I was able to put my own food on my family’s table and buy clothes and school equipment for my children, who have suffered so much throughout the war.”

I have not experienced compassion in a long time and when Emissa gave me the chance to work, I felt care and solidarity for the first time since my accident.

The farming and livelihoods project is delivered by Emissa, a CARE partner working in Syria:

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.