They are not their disabillity

In crisis-stricken Libya, daily psychological stress affects almost everyone, let alone those with a disability. Yet the question of how to address this vital issue is often neglected.

Chiara Beguin tells us about her experiences working for Handicap International: ‘Everyone deserves the best life possible, according to their capabilities.’

Mohamed goes back to school

‘Last month, we visited Mohamed – a very clever boy. But he had not been to school for months.’ Mohamed had been stigmatised by teachers and other children; he was scared, isolated and stuck at home. He’d outgrown his wheelchair, which was a huge problem. There was no money for a new one. There was nobody he could talk to. He was stuck – physically and mentally.

A team from Handicap International provided him with a new wheelchair, and a physiotherapist and psychosocial worker were assigned to work with him, his family and his teachers. The latter were able to express how difficult they found the situation, while Mohamed had the opportunity to express his fears. ‘Together, they managed to focus on his strengths, on what he could do. He learned that he was more than his disability,’ Chiara explains. With a new wheelchair, and newly found courage, Mohamed was able to go back to school.

Their care is neglected

Working with the Libyan Ministry of Social Affairs, as well as other national and international stakeholders, Handicap International reaches out to people who are registered as disabled. The organisation engages local communities through social media, for example by publicising a telephone hotline number. Then they can plan a home visit and provide disabled people with physiotherapy, teaching them daily exercises they can do at home. ‘If this daily care is neglected it will limit them their whole life long,’ Chiara explains. ‘If they don’t stretch or exercise, their condition usually gets worse and worse. But it’s not just physical exercises that are important.’

The impact goes even further

‘We see a person as a whole – we take a comprehensive approach. A disability impacts both physical and mental well-being.’ Physical disabilities still come with a social stigma – stopping people from going out, seeing friends or going to school. They become isolated, start to suffer from anxiety or even depression. In many ways, their disability robs them of their lives.

But the impact goes even further, which is why Handicap International includes the family and carers in the healing process. ‘Families and communities also need help and support to deal with the situation.’ Mental and psychosocial support is as vital as physical support. Chiara concludes: ‘Through consultation and psychological support, we aim to teach people that they are not their disability.'

This month, the Netherlands hosted the MHPSS International Conference on Mental Health and Psychological Support in Conflict Situations. Handicap International, an organisation which provides physical and psychological assistance for disabled people, supports this initiative.