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Aaref Watad

Photoblog: New sporting opportunities help Syrians find hope after losing limbs

The club is spearheaded by the physical therapy unit at Idlib Specialist Hospital [Aaref Watad]

Date of publication: 17 April, 2018

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See in pictures: Syrians who lost limbs from the conflict find new hope, as well as a chance to show off their skills, at an amputees' football club in Idlib.
Football has taken on a new meaning in Idlib, northwestern Syria, where the sport has become a haven for those who have lost limbs as a result of the eight-year-long conflict.

The team, currently made of up 25 young men who have lost either an arm or a leg in the ongoing conflict, showcase a host of newly acquired skills and agility as they gathered for a friendly match last week, captured by Syrian photojournalist Aaref Watad.

After a warmup filled with the usual stretches and drills, players come into their own at match time, gracefully manipulating the ball and fearlessly attacking with speed and precision.

[Aaref Watad]

Since the beginning of December, the team of now over 20 civilians and rebel fighters aged 13-40 have been training in Idlib. 
[Aaref Watad]

The club began as an initiative spearheaded by the physical therapy unit at the Idlib Specialist Hospital, which all the players attend for essential physiotherapy.

[Aaref Watad]

[Aaref Watad]

The benefits of the football club are two-fold: on top of the obvious physical benefits, players are also using the game as psychological respite from the trauma and misery brought on by the relentless fighting.

[Aaref Watad]

[Aaref Watad]

Since its establishment more than a year ago, the physical therapy unit at the hospital has treated some 900 people; women and men of all ages who have undergone amputation or suffered a fracture.

[Aaref Watad]

[Aaref Watad]
One of the physiotherapists from the unit, Mohammed Mari, explains that young people responded quickly to the idea of forming a football team and ​​training together, pointing out that over just a few weeks, players developed significantly both physically and psychologically. 

[Aaref Watad]

[Aaref Watad]
The unit is planning to expand its sports programme with  weightlifting and swimming to be launched next.

[Aaref Watad]

[Aaref Watad]

The Syrian conflict began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by President Bashar al-Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings, triggering an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.

Since its outbreak in 2011, the war has claimed more than 340,000 lives and displaced over 11 million people inside and outside the country. The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.

[Aaref Watad]

[Aaref Watad]
Most recently, hundreds of thousands of civilians and opposition fighters have been forced out of the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta following a devastating bombing and shelling siege culminating in a vicious chemical attack.

[Aaref Watad]

[Aaref Watad]
For the meantime, Syrians enjoy the moments of respite in the relative freedom and security of Idlib.


Aaref Watad is a journalist and photographer from northern Syria. Follow him on Twitter @aboshamariha

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