“You Are My Support”: Empowering People with Disabilities

Support for people with disabilities among refugees in Syria includes efforts to empower them as valued members of their communities.

Um Firas is a Phase Leader at a camp in northeast Syria. In this role, she is responsible for supporting the work of block and sector leaders and for coordinating with community organizations and NGOs to serve camp residents. Um Firas ensures that her neighbors have access to bread, water, gas, and other services essential to life in the camp. She is also an older woman with a disability who relies on a walker.

Displaced from her home in Aleppo, Um Firas may seem like an unlikely candidate for this role at the camp. Yet despite her challenges with pain and mobility, her strong social skills and connections with the community make her an ideal leader.

The confidence the community has in her was clear when she was elected to the Phase Leader role by her neighbors. Um Firas said she finds joy in helping those around her.

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Um Firas managing distributions in the camp

“When I hear someone praying for what I’ve brought to them, I forget all the pain and suffering,” she said.

Efforts funded by the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, help people with disabilities become active members of camp communities.  Whether it is stepping into a leadership role or finding the courage to meet new friends, teams support people with disabilities and ensure they have opportunities to engage and contribute.

Ahmed, an eleven-year-old Iraqi refugee, lives with his mother and young brothers in northeast Syria. He is disabled with paralysis of the lower limbs, which made adapting to life at the camp even more difficult. Feeling lonely and isolated, Ahmed started acting out, even becoming aggressive toward his siblings.

Ahmed’s life began to change when a member of Blumont’s Community Mobilization team visited Ahmed in his tent to better understand how he was feeling. They invited him to join other children for activities at the community center, hoping that connecting with people would help raise his spirits.

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Ahmed opens up about his struggles to a member of the Community Mobilization team
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Ahmed participates in activities with the other children at the community center

Joining in with the group, Ahmed was suddenly an energetic and happy child. While he feared being unwanted or not fitting in, he instead found that other children wanted to play with him and help him to participate. Now, Ahmed has many friends, one of whom helps him attend activities regularly.

Last year, during a camp celebration for International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Ahmed shared his experience and thanked everyone for supporting his journey. “You are my friends, my family, and my support,” he said.

Ahmed shared that while his disability was once a source of depression, his adaptation to that challenge has become a source of strength.

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