One can see the effects of war in the eyes and features of Hamdou Hussein Nabhan, a 40-year-old father of five small children and a citizen of Homs Northern Countryside (HNC), a besieged area in central Syria. The bitterness, yet kindness, in his expression can easily distract from the signs of war on his house and his arduous walk.
Hamdou has lived 38 years in good health and worked as a miller to sustain his family, when his life was turned upside down in 2015 as the battles of war reached his home town yet another time. It was the end of September when Hamdou’s work place was hit by an airstrike by the Syrian government, which left the father of five severely injured.
The town Hamdou calls his home is located only a few kilometers from a frontline between the government and oppositional forces, on the outer edges of Homs Northern Countryside, a besieged area between Homs and Hama city in central Syria. As such, it has frequently been exposed to attacks by numerous parties to the conflict.
The life of the Nabhan family and thousands of other civilians trapped in and between the towns of northern Homs has severely been affected by the war. The area hosts approximately 250,000 individuals, of which 30,000 are internally displaced, and was characterized by a high government dependency before the war. Thus, the withdrawal of the government has left large parts of society unemployed and without livelihoods, and caused an acute paucity of educational and vocational opportunities. The siege has led poverty rates to skyrocket, whereas frequent shelling and airstrikes have resulted in high rates of physical injury, civilian casualties and psychological trauma. Hamdou joined the ranks of the injured when he sustained a shrapnel in his left foot and stomach while working in the mill in autumn 2015.
“I was taken to the hospital immediately, and while the stomach wound was not severe, I had to undergo surgery on my left foot. Months of physiotherapy and pain followed, but my foot never fully recovered”, Hamdou explains. “The accident took from me the ability to walk normally, but it also took my job e, as I was not fit to continue working in the mill.”
To counter high unemployment and poverty rates in the area, Emissa initiated a farming project in spring 2017, providing some of the most vulnerable families in the besieged area of HNC with agricultural inputs. Through this program several families were able to plant and harvest their own vegetables, using the produce in accordance with their needs.
“I had been unemployed since the accident and I had lost all hope of providing my family with a decent life again. When Emissa approached me earlier this year and offered me to work in a farming project that would help me to secure an income while working with my own hands, I started to feel optimistic for the first time since my injury”, Hamdou emphasizes. The fact that people cared for his wellbeing and supported his self-reliance and participation in society regardless of his disability renewed his optimism and belief in humanity.
Farming in the context of war and aid dependency is not an easy task and the family had to overcome several obstacles. However, the agricultural project has brought the whole family together and created moments of joy and peace for them. “The field has become my sixth child and whenever it is time to reap a vegetable, my other children participate in harvesting the vegetables as if it was a game, full of excitement and joy”, Hamdou adds with a smile on his face.
Taking care of the land and watching the vegetables grow has become a joined family activity and made Hamdou realize that the biggest challenge of dealing with his physical disability is overcoming the ‘disability’ in his thinking. “Farming helps me to forget about my handicap. I do everything in the field myself: I prepare the land, I plant the seeds, I water them and harvest the vegetables with the help of my wife and children. When I work on my land, the disability is not an obstacle anymore.”
“I have not experienced compassion in a long time and when Emissa gave me the chance to work, I felt care and solidarity for the first time since my accident. For the first time, I was able put my own food on my family’s table and buy clothes and school equipment for my children, who have suffered so much throughout the war”, Hamdou explains. The feeling of being self-reliant and having some money to make a living has helped the Nabhan family to feel a sense of normality in an exceptional, yet long-lasting situation of despair.