Transcending Disability in Libya: Hannah’s Story

Hannah is 22 years old and finds meaning in her life from family, friends and her faith. She grew up in the Libyan city of Misurata and visits the International Medical Corps-supported physiotherapy center each week to help her enjoy those important parts of her life, despite her disability. Hannah has spastic paraparesi, a condition that causes weakness in her legs and makes walking difficult.

At age 14, Hannah left school because of the way her teachers treated her, keeping her inside at lunchtime and assuming she could not do anything for herself. She also felt excluded by the other students and thought they were always staring at her.

When International Medical Corps first began working in the Tadamon Centre in Misurata, Hannah was very shy and would just come in for physiotherapy and then leave without speaking to anyone. She would often miss appointments and was not making much progress.

Our team of physiotherapists and psychosocial experts spoke to Hannah, her doctors and her family. It soon became clear that Hannah had been told that her condition would quickly get worse and worse, with no chance of preventing it. It is hardly surprising that Hannah had responded to this advice by giving up hope.

According to Leticia Pokorny, an International Medical Corps Physiotherapist in Misurata:

“I explained to Hannah that we could not cure her condition, but Hannah had the power to control if and when it would get worse through hard work at her physiotherapy. Simply introducing the idea that she has control over her own destiny made a huge difference to Hannah and her whole approach to treatment.”

At the same time, our team of psychosocial specialists began introducing Hannah to group activities that had never been available at the Center before our involvement. Very quickly, Hannah began to open up and make friends. Hannah explained,

“…this was the first time I have ever met other people with disabilities and it makes me feel less alone and ‘different’.”

Hannah joined several others from the Tadamon Centre in preparing a photo exhibition that showed their plans and dreams for the future. As she discussed her photos, the group helped Hannah realize that no matter what happens to her in the future, the things that are most important to her – family, friends and faith – will always be there to support her.

In March 2013, International Medical Corps supported a group of persons with disabilities to produce a short play about living with a disability in Libya. Hannah was very keen to participate, but her family was reluctant to let her take part. Our team met with Hannah’s family to explain the benefit of the activity and Hannah’s sister came along to one group session. It was immediately obvious how the interaction with other people and the challenge of standing in front of an audience was helping Hannah’s self confidence and her family became happy for her to carry on. Today, Hannah is planning with the rest of the group to perform the play in schools around Misurata and even considering taking it on tour to Tripoli.

Julie Currie, International Medical Corps Rehabilitation Coordinator, observes:

“Hannah faces more challenges and uncertainty than most 22-year-olds anywhere else in the world. But, with the support of those around her, she hopefully now has the confidence and the strength to face whatever comes her way. I doubt that would have been the case if International Medical Corps had never come to Misurata.”

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