Healing art from Dubai for war-wounded kids
Dubai artist Fathima Mouideen's art brought smiles and happiness to these war-wounded children who spent Ramadan and Eid far away from their families in Iraq, Syria and Yemen
One wanted to paint a lion and another wanted birds and butterflies depicting freedom, to adorn the grey walls of the hospital ward they were housed in.
These are children affected by war. Most of them physically, but many others carry psychological wounds too.
This Eid Al Fitr, Dubai-based street artist Fathima Mouideen made a trip to the Mowasah Hospital, Reconstructive Surgery Hospital (RSH) in Jordan, where all these kids are being treated free of cost by Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) or MSF.
Fathima's art brought smiles and happiness to these war-wounded children who spent Ramadan and Eid far away from their families in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
"There were lots of children and lots of empty walls," says Fathima.
Mustafa is a 4-year-old child from Dair Az-Zour in Syria. He suffered severe injuries to his hip, leg and head in 2014 when a barrel bomb fell on his family house, and lost his parents and sister in the attack.
"So we brainstormed - me and the kids - and we came up with something that expressed them and made the walls brighter and positive," she says. These children have been though trauma at an early age and the painting brought a touch of laughter and happiness in their lives, says Fathima, who finished the mural in a week's time.
"I like to think that for a little while, art can help distract the kids from their circumstances and that they're free to imagine and let their creativity run wild. It helps them to dream about things bigger than where they are and where they've come from, and instead think about the future," she added.
Fathima has studied art in Canada and the UK, and is a full time street artist who has painted her magic in schools in the UAE as well as on the international scene in New York, London and Toronto. "I have worked with kids earlier, and in this particular project, I wanted them to be free of their sickness and look at their future with a bright view," she says.
The healing process
Yousef, 16, suffered severe third-degree burns after thieves set fire to him in Baghdad and stole his motorbike. Due to improper treatment, Yousef developed severe contractions around the neck and elbows, and was unable to move his upper body.
This month, Dr Mukhallid, MSF plastic surgeon at the hospital, carried out a six-hour operation releasing the contractions and performed a skin graft on Yousef's chest and neck, plus skin flaps on the arms.
After the wounds heal and post thorough physiotherapy, Dr Mukhallid is confident that Yousef will regain full functionality of his arms and neck. "After the healing process and the maturation of the skin, and then physiotherapy, I think the recovery will be successful. In my experience, what we've done for Yousef will allow him to move all of his joints normally again," he said.
Mohamed Bali, MSF UAE executive Director, says that the hospital project was started in 2006 after the Iraq war, for children who had been badly treated and needed further reconstructive surgeries or treatment for psychological scars. "Half the patients now being treated there are from Yemen and Syria," he explains.
The hospital was established to offer orthopaedic, maxillofacial and plastic surgery, as well as physiotherapy and psychosocial support to victims of violence in Iraq. However, as other conflicts in the region erupted during and after the Arab Spring of 2011, the hospital has since opened its doors to other victims of war throughout the region.
In particular, since the Syria conflict began, the number of patients at the RSH has increased significantly - currently 25 per cent of patients in the hospital are Syrian, with 43 per cent from Iraq and 25 per cent from Yemen.
In August 2015, the Reconstructive Surgery Programme in Amman moved into a new eight-floor renovated structure in the capital. "We wanted to improve the quality of medical services offered as well as accommodate the growing number of patients admitted to the programme," explains Bali.
Since it began in August 2006, MSF has admitted more than 5,000 patients from across the region and performed well over 10,000 surgeries. "The Amman reconstructive surgery programme (RSP) challenges preconceived ideas of how MSF provides medical aid in that it is not a life-saving operation, rather a life-changing, long-term developmental programme," he says.
"We scout out victims of violence from the region who are direly in need of reconstructive surgery, and bringing them to Amman, for full comprehensive treatment."
Besides the complex surgery to enhance mobility and functionality, MSF provides intense physiotherapy and psychosocial counselling, sometimes for as long as two years.
For Fathima, the experience has been an emotional roller coaster ride. "I was heartbroken. we don't talk about the long term consequences of war, but after seeing these kids, my faith has been restored in the human spirit, hope and perseverance," she says.
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