Syria

Pushing the Wheels Towards Social Cohesion and Acceptance

"Many disabled people choose to distance themselves from society. I am trying to help others overcome their disability and find their place within their communities."

Facing a terrifying journey to seek safety takes courage, and Zakariya has a lot of that.

When he was maimed back in Syria in 2013, it was a miracle that he survived.

"I was simply walking down a street when I was hit from behind. A piece of shrapnel had settled in my head and another behind my left knee," says Zakariya.

With more than 40% of healthcare facilities decimated from the conflict, moving Zakariya to a hospital in Turkey was vital.

After spending months in the hospital under the false hope that he would be able to move his lower body again, Zakariya had to come to peace with the fact that he would never be able to walk again.

"I returned to Aleppo to continue my recovery. However, after months of power shortages and lack of access to the medical care I needed, I made my way back to Turkey. That was when I came face to face with one of the biggest challenges of my life," he continues.

Until that moment, Zakariya was too worried about his health to think about the realities of his disability.

"I started feeling alone and weak. I could not believe I would forever be in a wheelchair even though just a few months ago I was an active member of my community."

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"I was neither the first nor the last Syrian to get hurt during the conflict."

After years of seeing everyone around him moving on with their lives without needing the help of others, Zakariya decided to find a way to fit into the community.

"I started looking for a job and soon enough, I came to the realisation that my injury is not the end," he says.

"I was neither the first nor the last Syrian to get hurt during the conflict."

With the help of his family and friends, Zakariya was finally able to overcome his disability.

"I was confident enough to get more involved with the community," he says.

That is when Zakariya was introduced to civil society organisations in Gaziantep, a province in western Turkey, that work with people with disabilities.

"I started working within a team that supports Syrian refugees with disabilities and advocates for their rights."

“Many disabled people choose to distance themselves from society. I am trying to help others overcome their disability and find their place within their communities.”

After enrolling in several courses on advocacy, the team now helps people with disabilities find their way in their personal, political and professional lives.

"We also try to find suitable work opportunities for them," Zakariya says proudly.

"We advocate for better access and better integration within the communities they reside in."

Zakariya and his team are also working to advocate for basic rights, like homes and buildings being well-equipped to accommodate those with disabilities. He hopes to be able to move the same movement to Syria, where disabled people are usually marginalised.

"When Syria is safe for return, I want to go back and fight for the rights of people with disabilities."

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“When Syria is safe for return, I want to go back and fight for the rights of people with disabilities.”

While local and social integration continues to be a struggle for many Syrians, Zakariya is trying his best to help the Syrian community, especially those with disabilities, find their place.

"Speaking the language removes one of the biggest barriers that Syrians face when trying to integrate," he says.

Zakariya’s ambitions are growing with him; he is now working towards completing his education.

"My accident happened right before my last year in school. I want to get a degree in Turkey and go to university and study interior design," he says with a hopeful smile.

Read more about the situation in Syria here