Fixing lives and limbs through decades of war in Afghanistan

© Provided by Al Jazeera Bashir, an Afghan physiotherapist, treats a patient with a prosthetic limb during a house visit in Kabul [Ricardo Garcia Vilanova]

After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan – a campaign that lasted 20 years and took the greatest toll on Afghan civilians. Photojournalist Ricardo Garcia Vilanova covered Afghanistan between 2007 and 2011. He writes about photographing those trying to help amidst the conflict.

The first memory I have of Afghanistan is arriving in the capital Kabul before dawn on a flight via Frankfurt. It was 2007 and I had been working for several years in Haiti before I decided to go to Afghanistan as a freelancer, without any real assignment. Once in the country, I was lucky to get work with American publications, which allowed me to continue travelling back and forth.

That first day, I left the terminal in darkness, watching as several soldiers stood guard on the periphery of the airport between barbed wire fences and concrete blast walls set up to protect the airport from car bombs. Unlike other airports, there were no taxis or any alternative means of transportation. It seemed I had no option but to sleep there until the next morning. But then a fellow passenger from my flight, an NGO worker, offered me a lift to my guesthouse in a convoy of two armoured cars.

It was winter, the night was cold and there was no electricity. As we drove, the streets were dark and deserted and several checkpoints manned by Afghan Forces marked the different access points to the city.

The outlook seemed bleak. Even though there was no active war in Kabul, there was elsewhere in the country, so the atmosphere in the capital was one of latent war. For many Afghans, this was a feeling they seemed to have normalised.

© Provided by Al Jazeera People wait their turn at the entrance to the Ali Abad Orthopaedic Centre in Kabul [Ricardo Garcia Vilanova]

For decades, even before the so-called “war on terror”, Afghans had known conflict. Twenty years prior, the country was embroiled in a civil war between the forces of the National Army, supported by Russia, and the Mujahideen rebels.

Then, as in later conflicts, humanitarians arrived to help with aid and medical care.

In 1988, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) set up the Ali Abad Orthopaedic Centre in the capital, to provide physical rehabilitation and artificial limbs for the war wounded who had been victims of fighting, landmines and bombs.

Two years after that, in 1990, Italian physiotherapist Alberto Cairo arrived to work at the centre. More than three decades later, he has not left, deciding to spend his life helping those affected by Afghanistan’s decades-long conflicts.

Three decades of care

I met Alberto on my first trip to Kabul. The then-55-year-old director of the orthopaedic centre was personable, outgoing, courteous and attentive as he went about his work.

My first thought upon meeting him was to wonder how someone could dedicate themselves to helping others without expecting anything in return, living cut off from everything he once considered a normal part of his life in the West. But he is part of that nucleus of people who altruistically try to help others, and that is his mission and legacy in life.

© Provided by Al Jazeera One of the recovery rooms at the ICRC centre in Kabul [Ricardo Garcia Vilanova]

Alberto told me that it was in 1992 when he met the man who changed his life – and whose example would go on to change the lives of thousands of others, people who have passed through the ICRC centres for treatment and those who have worked there.

The man Alberto met was called Mahmood. He had no legs and one arm. He was in the middle of the street in a wheelchair, trying to escape a nearby explosion with his youngest son.

Although fighting had ravaged the capital, causing the orthopaedic centre to close, Alberto invited Mahmood in for treatment. After a while, Mahmood was up and about with the help of his new prosthetics.

Once Alberto was able to reopen the centre, Mahmood started working there too.

Since then, it has been Alberto’s policy to hire people who had been rehabilitated at the centre.

A crucial service

The Ali Abad Orthopaedic Centre is in downtown Kabul and has a view of the mountains that frame the city.

Its main entrance opens onto a closed deck, where people wait when it is cold or raining. On sunny days when the temperature allows it, people sit on large benches or in a yard that surrounds it. There they wait their turn for treatment, which is offered completely free of charge.

Inside the building, there are large rehabilitation rooms, some like a gym where physiotherapists do exercises with patients who already have some mobility, and others where patients go through an initial phase of care. Depending on the type of disability, a specific treatment is designed for each patient.

Over the decades, the orthopaedic centre expanded its operations, opening new locations to help even more patients – there are now seven specialised centres across the country. Each year, some 10,000 Afghans enrol with the ICRC for prosthetics and physical rehabilitation and the centres have supported more than 178,000 patients with care, the NGO says.

© Provided by Al Jazeera Several children await care at the ICRC centre in Kabul [Ricardo Garcia Vilanova]

Since the mid-1990s, they have not only helped the war-wounded but expanded their work to cover anyone with a mobility issue. Ninety percent of the patients they treat suffer from disability due to congenital conditions, illnesses or accidents. In some cases, the treatment can last for years.

Every day, year in and year out, long lines of people seeking care pass through the doors of the centre. Then there are the teams who make home visits to reach those patients who cannot move or travel to the centre.

It is a crucial service in a country like Afghanistan, where many people do not have the logistical or economic resources to be able to travel far for medical care or to access a four-wheel-drive that can take them to a treatment centre from an area where standard cars or taxis often cannot reach.

Taking care of patients

One day, I accompanied several physiotherapists on their home visits to the areas surrounding the Kabul orthopaedic centre.

The team started out early in the morning, travelling with a driver in a four-wheel-drive, with a plan to visit several houses that day.

Even though the distances between the centre and its patients may not be that far, some live in areas that are difficult to reach; or in houses built on streets with great slopes that on rainy days would turn to mud, making things more complicated. Only a four-wheel-drive, inching forward at a snail’s pace, could make the journey.

In the car that day was Bashir, a physiotherapist working at the centre in Kabul. He is one of the former-patients-turned-staff-members who make up 90 percent of those working at the ICRC centres. He was injured in a landmine blast and now uses prosthetics to walk.

After circumventing several checkpoints that morning, our vehicle finally arrived in one of the poorest areas of Kabul. In a modest house, we met Ashma, who lived with her father and brother (her mother had passed away). Bashir tended to her with great attention and patience while her family observed from a distance. As the physiotherapist and his patient worked, Ashma’s gratitude was palpable.

© Provided by Al Jazeera Physiotherapist Bashir visits a patient at his workplace to check how his prosthesis fits [Ricardo Garcia Vilanova]

We made another stop that day, at a small clothes-making workshop, also located in one of the poorest parts of the city. Bashir followed up with a patient who worked there. Thanks to a prosthesis the centre had provided, he is now able to stand up.

The prosthetics the ICRC team uses are all produced on-site in artisanal workshops housed within the seven orthopaedic centres. The staff members – nearly all of them former patients with disabilities – hand-make the prostheses and adapt them to the needs of each patient.

More than 19,000 artificial legs, arms and other orthopaedic devices are manufactured every year, the ICRC says. Alberto has estimated that there are no fewer than 200,000 people in Afghanistan who are in need of prosthetic limbs.

More than 30 years ago, war created the need for an orthopaedic centre like this one. In the decades since, the conflict shifted, the players changed, and the conditions on the ground altered.

But those who have always needed help still do.

So the centre, and its satellite projects in other cities, stands. And Alberto and his committed team continue their daily work of ensuring Afghans who are most in need get the care they seek.

Internet Explorer Channel Network
News Related

OTHER NEWS

Russia checkmates EU by sending gas prices soaring as Putin U-turns on promise

It comes after European gas prices have soared to record highs and have left the bloc in the face of a gas crisis. Prices soared when Russia decided to decrease ... Read more »

Mike Phillips book: My break-up with Duffy and the truth about that night outside McDonald's

Controversy has often followed Mike Phillips around, one and off the pitch. Here, in the second of our brilliant extracts from his new book ‘ Half Truths ’, the Welsh ... Read more »

MIBR signs JOTA

MIBR has expanded its CS:GO roster with the addition of former Bravos player Jhonatan “⁠JOTA⁠” Willian, the organization announced today. © Provided by Dot Esports JOTA will be a part ... Read more »

Guernsey in 'worst recruitment crisis in 30 years'

© BBC The retail sector is one of those having recruitment problems Guernsey is going through its worst recruitment crisis in 30 years amidst a “perfect storm” of difficulties in ... Read more »

Indian couple sail to wedding in large cooking pot

© AFP The couple, Akash and Aishwarya, were pulled to their wedding venue in a large aluminium cooking vessel Images of a couple sat in a large cooking pot floating ... Read more »

Parent Plus Loans: How Much Debt Are Parents in and Can It Be Forgiven?

© kali9 / Getty Images African American graduate (17 years) with proud parents (40s). The parents of dependent undergraduates can use a Direct PLUS Loan, commonly referred to as a ... Read more »

Winners, losers, and other telling moments from Week 6 in the NFL

© Provided by INSIDER Aaron Rodgers. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images Week 6 of the NFL season is almost in the books. Aaron Rodgers and Lamar Jackson were the big winners of ... Read more »

Walmart 'Black Friday Deals for Days' 2021 -- Everything to Know

© VIEW Press/Getty Images Walmart is getting a head start on Black Friday savings this year! On Monday, the retailer announced that its holiday deals would begin in early November ... Read more »

The Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard is down to just $30

The Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard was already affordable, but it’s now 50% off. Microsoft has a long history of making ergonomic keyboards. Dating all the way back to 1994, Microsoft has ... Read more »

RS Recommends: Score This Pair of Sony Wireless Noise-Cancelling Headphones for $78

© Amazon If you’re looking for a pair of Bluetooth headphones that will help you focus on your music (or work calls) while tuning out the noise, you’re in luck: ... Read more »

Vic Fangio tuning out conversations about his job

© Provided by NBC Sports Sunday’s loss to the Raiders dropped the Broncos to 3-3 after a 3-0 start to the year and dropped the team’s record to 15-23 during ... Read more »

"Sexy Pace" Can Actually Help You Speed Up on Your Runs

There’s an obvious benefit to running with someone who’s faster than you: The natural competition encourages you to pick up the pace, and over time, you’ll get faster. But what ... Read more »

The UK beaches that could rival Kourtney Kardashian and Travis's engagement location

© PA Images kourtney and travis After years of ‘will they, won’t they’ moments with Scott Disick, Kourtney took to her Instagram to announce the news sharing a snap of ... Read more »

'Katie has a very difficult position, and that is something that we will discuss this week'

© Brian Reilly-Troy INPHO Katie McCabe and manager Vera Pauw pictured at today’s press conference. VERA PAUW reserved high praise for captain Katie McCabe but also suggested she may have ... Read more »

Australian minister tells Ted Cruz ‘we don't need your lectures, mate' in spat over Covid vaccine mandate

An Australian state governor has lashed out at Texas senator Ted Cruz for his opposition to a strict new vaccine mandate, telling him: “You know nothing about us.” © ABC/Getty ... Read more »

Hibs B team to face Huddersfield Town as Under-18s get more gametime

© Hibs’ B team in action against Elgin City in the SPFL Trust Trophy in August The Easter Road squad will mostly be made up of players from the club’s ... Read more »

Cutting calories alone 'not enough to lower weight and boost health'

© Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo Lowering your calories and eating them all in one meal may be the optimal way to live longer and stay slim, a study in ... Read more »

Kathryn Thomas warns parents against cutting kids' hair after hilarious find

© Provided by Extra.ie Kathryn Thomas has warned fellow parents to avoid cutting their kids’ hair after getting her hands on a hilarious throwback photo from her school days. The ... Read more »

Thomas Tuchel hints at Edouard Mendy's reaction to Ballon d'Or snub after Brentford heroics

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel has hinted that star goalkeeper Edouard Mendy is not phased by his snub for the Ballon d’Or shortlist. The Senegalese stopper reaffirmed his status as one ... Read more »

5 Anti-Inflammatory Breakfast Options to Start Your Morning on a Healthy Note

What you eat for breakfast can set the tone for your entire day. It’s been shown that it’s easiest to make healthy choices in the morning before our willpower is ... Read more »

'Squid Game' was almost called 'Round Six', it's revealed

© Provided by WhatToWatch Jung Ho-yeon in Squid Game Everyone has been talking about Netflix hit Squid Game lately, and the series has been confirmed as the streaming service’s biggest ... Read more »

Golden Arrow onboard technology leads to the arrest of 15 robbers

© Provided by The South African Golden Arrow Bus Services (GABS) said 15 alleged robbery suspects were arrested over 24 hours on Friday, 14 October, after the close collaboration between ... Read more »

Tom Brady's Buccaneers Super Bowl run began with fixing center's sweaty butt

When Tom Brady arrived in Tampa to begin his late-career drive toward winning Super Bowl 55, he called every one of his new Buccaneers teammates right away, knowing they had ... Read more »

Titanic's disappearing bathtub pictured in footage from new expedition to wreck

© OceanGate Expeditions A portion of the bathtub in the captain’s quarters can be seen on the bottom right of the photo – OceanGate Expeditions Footage captured from a recent ... Read more »

The Complete Chaos of the Championship Series

It took only two games each for both the American League and National League Championship Series to diverge into complete chaos. No specific formula can help us understand how we ... Read more »

Stolen bases, baseball's lost art, playing pivotal role in 2021 MLB postseason

The stolen base is playing a huge role this postseason, and I am here for it.  The 1980s were my formative baseball-watching years, a thrilling era with Rickey Henderson, Tim ... Read more »

NASA Employee Who Allegedly Used Racial Slur Against Mixed-Race Neighbor Is Convicted of Murder

A former NASA employee and police officer who allegedly used a racial slur against his mixed-race neighbor was found guilty of the man’s murder. © Provided by People Fairfax County ... Read more »

Conor McGregor finally breaks silence after ‘DJ assault' allegations.. to take swipe at bitter UFC rival Nate Diaz

CONOR McGREGOR has broken his silence after being accused of punching a well-known Italian DJ. But the Notorious hit out at UFC rival Nate Diaz rather than addressing the assault ... Read more »

What is '12-3-30'? The walking treadmill routine helped TikToker lose 30 pounds

Social media has become a hub for free workouts and fitness advice — especially over the course of the pandemic when we were forced to take our workouts from the ... Read more »

Apple unveils new MacBooks, AirPods

Apple showed off its second batch of new products ahead of the all-important holiday shopping season. © Stephanie Keith/Getty Images People test the new the new Apple products during an ... Read more »

Apple 2021 MacBook Pros boast improved bass, better mics

Apple says its new MacBook Pro models feature “the best audio system in a notebook” with better microphones and improved bass.   © Provided by CNET Screenshot/CNET Both the 14-inch MacBook ... Read more »

De Blasio dismisses recent surge in NYC subway thefts

Mayor Bill de Blasio dismissed a recent surge in subway thefts, insisting Monday an “overall reality” indicated NYPD presence on trains and in stations has proved effective at deterring crime. ... Read more »

Harris to campaign for McAuliffe this week in diverse Virginia county

Vice President Kamala Harris will campaign for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe on Thursday, according to a source familiar with the plans. © JIM WATSON/AFP/AFP via Getty Images US Vice ... Read more »

Kristin Cavallari Steps Into Canadian Tuxedo Season in Off-White Pointy Boots

© BG027/Bauergriffin.com/MEGA kristin-cavallari-dress-thong-heels With fall finally in full force, Kristin Cavallari is ready to whip out the Canadian Tuxedo. In a photo posted to her Instagram, the Uncommon Beauty founder ... Read more »

Woman Recovers Photo Albums Containing 125 Years of Family History After They Were Trashed

A woman recently enlisted the help of the New York City Department of Sanitation to recover five photo albums that had been thrown away by a family member. According to ... Read more »

Mary Trump's Fundraising Email for Terry McAuliffe Rakes in $100K in One Day

A fundraising email credited to Mary Trump sent on behalf of Virginia Democrat Terry McAuliffe raised an estimated $100,000 in a single day, McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign said Monday. © Zach ... Read more »

Disney delays all Marvel films and Indiana Jones by one year

Bad news for all Marvel fans plus everyone looking forward to Harrison Ford’s whip-cracking return as Indy. The House of Mouse has just confirmed a major reorganisation of all cinemas ... Read more »

Panthers coach Matt Rhule: Sam Darnold 'not playing well enough'

The Carolina Panthers lost to the Minnesota Vikings in overtime Sunday to drop to 3-3 on the season, and quarterback Sam Darnold had another day to forget without star running ... Read more »

"Moyes and West Ham have moved on" - Journalist drops big Irons transfer verdict on 29-goal ace

© GiveMeSport West Ham United boss David Moyes West Ham United will not make a January move for Jesse Lingard despite boss David Moyes still being a huge fan of ... Read more »

If You Get a Concussion, Light Exercise in the Days Afterward May Shorten Recovery Time

© Oleg Breslavtsev – Getty Images Light aerobic activity can play a valuable role in shortening concussion recovery time, according to new research. Light aerobic activity—such as walking, running, stationary ... Read more »