When Fatiha fled Syria with her daughter in early 2013, she took refuge in El Buss refugee camp, in southern Lebanon. Because of her paraplegia, she had been trapped in a depressing, concrete room since her arrival. Fatiha’s new wheelchair lets her get out to discover her new environment. “Now, I am able to meet the people of Lebanon,” she says.
“Do no harm” is a cardinal rule for anyone working in the health care field. But the risks are not always obvious. Providing a wheelchair can give a person with disabilities a lifetime of mobility, but the simple act of giving wheelchairs is not enough. Social workers who care for those with disabilities require training on how to use the wheelchairs correctly so they can give thorough instructions to their patients.
Through its network of community-based organizations, ANERA distributed 137 wheelchairs to people in need in the El Bus refugee camp during the summer of 2013 and organized training on how to use them. The wheelchairs were donated by LDS Charities.
At a two-day workshop, Shane Rosenberg, a physiotherapist from the United States, reminded his trainees that each person is unique and every disability requires individualize care. For each patient, he explains, measurements must be taken, and positioning of the body must be carefully considered in order to prevent deterioration to posture. Without proper training, the caregiver could unintentionally worsen the patient’s condition.
Shane, a member of LDS, doesn’t live in Lebanon. But, he generously dedicated a portion of his vacation time to train local associations on how to provide appropriate care to persons with disabilities in Lebanon’s Palestinian camps. “In two days, they won’t become physiotherapists but I give them a very practical training, with specific focus points and skills that they can use immediately,” he said.
Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are not eligible for free government-provided health care and 95% of them lack medical insurance. As a result, Palestinians with disabilities rely heavily on health services provided by local non-profit organizations.
Giving a Wheelchair is not Enough
Jamal El Saleh, is coordinator for the Palestinian Disability Forum – a network of 16 associations – and one of the 14 participants in the training. He warmly welcomes this initiative and highlights the need for a more professional approach among Palestinian organizations in how they deal with disabilities: “Oftentimes people to whom we have provided wheelchairs come back to us asking for new ones,” he explains. “Very often the wheelchair is fine, but they think it’s unsuitable because they lack knowledge on how to use it properly; it is more complex than it seems at first sight.”
Jamal and the other trainees listen attentively as Shane advises the group on how to make using the wheelchair easier on their patients – tips for getting in and out of the chair, eating on their own, etc.
“This training was eye-opening; we learned about things we would not even have thought of before, like pressure sores, for example, or how to take measurements,” Manal says. Another participant Danya adds, “until now, when I met with a patient, I just thought that either he needed a wheelchair or he didn’t. But now I see it is more complex than that. The wheelchair alone is not enough.”
Manal and Danya both work with the Community Based Rehabilitation Association (CBRA) in the Beddawi and Nahr El Bared refugee camps, where they provide care for about 3,000 persons of all ages who suffer from different disabilities. They agree that applying these newly-learned skills will make a big difference in their everyday practice.
Thanks to this training, the participants are now certified to receive and distribute some 100 new wheelchairs, which LDS Charities will donate on a yearly basis to ANERA.
After just two days of training, Shane found it hard to say goodbye. But he is confident the trainees will use the skills they learned. “And they will also train their colleagues, spreading good practices for the benefit of people suffering from disabilities.”