A beautiful golden light falls on the mountains of Kashmir. Simran, a six-year-old girl, and her three-year-old brother Fayaz, are playing close to their home. Simran walks up to an unusual object on the ground. “A ball!” she cries, as she bends down to pick it up. There is a loud explosion.

“I can still hear them screaming, ‘Firdousa, you’ve lost everything!’ It was a living nightmare,” explains Fayaz's mother Firdousa sadly. “We were living in a village close to the border in India, contaminated by explosive remnants of war. It was an explosive shell left on the ground. My daughter died on spot."

Her family hides the truth from Firdousa for a week. They don’t want to make the situation even more difficult to bear. “I knew my daughter was dead. But they said Fayaz had just been injured.” When she finally makes it to the hospital, Reyaz, her husband, goes with her. “Please, stay calm, don’t scream” he says. When she enters the hospital ward and sees Fayaz lying in bed, with two stumps instead of legs, she collapses in shock. “I just wanted to end it all. I took Fayaz in my arms. He asked me why I was crying. I said I had a cold. Day after day, he kept telling the doctors, ‘Give me some poison to kill the pain. I don’t want mom to worry’.”

The following days and weeks are hard. One morning, Firdousa and Reyaz pack their bags, say goodbye to their friends and relatives, and leave their village with their two sons. “With Fayaz as he was, we couldn’t stay in the countryside. The health centers are too far away and there are too many hills. We rented a small room in a building in town, in Srinagar. The separation was painful,” explains Firdousa.

Fayaz tries to overcome his loneliness, the sense of injustice, and to understand what has happened, asking, “If I grow, will my legs grow too? If they put a bandage on my sister’s head like they did with my leg, will it make her come back?” He has fits of anger. He breaks his toys. Haunted by the loss of his sister, he is tougher on other little girls. It is a heavy burden for a four-year-old boy to bear.

In July 2014, a physical therapist meets with Fayaz’s family. Fayaz is immediately given rehabilitation care to loosen his limbs and improve the firmness of his stumps. In May 2015, he visits Hope Disability Center, Handicap International’s partner rehabilitation center, where he is fitted with two artificial limbs. He learns to walk again and receives regular follow-up care from Handicap International.

“Fayaz is a hyperactive child," explains Muddasir Ashraf, Handicap International Disability manager in India. "He crawls around on all fours really fast. His little arms are very strong. But he needs to learn to use his artificial legs properly and to develop his balance. Fayaz is going to grow up fast. We will have to change the prosthesis every two years until he is older. Throughout his life he’s going to need 50 artificial legs, 25 for each leg."

Fayaz takes off his backpack and his uniform. “Fayaz likes school, except when he can’t go out and play," says Firdousa. "When the other children ask him what happened, he mumbles something about falling off a roof. Then he curls up in a ball and he’s impossible to comfort. And he always asks the same questions, ‘Where’s my sister? When is she coming back?’ It’s painful but we don’t lie to him. We don’t want to give him false hopes.”

Fayaz grabs the cricket bat and runs outside. “He loves cricket,” explains Firdousa with a smile. “There are so many things to worry about. We don’t earn much. Fayaz’s treatment is expensive. What’s going to happen to him when we’re not here anymore? But we’re relieved we can count on support from Handicap International. And thanks to his artificial legs, we’re happy to see that our little boy is standing tall again.”

Fayaz straightens his back and concentrates hard. His brother throws the ball directly at him and he hits it with a sharp, neat thwack. The neighbors clap for him. He smiles with pride.

Photo Credit: 
Lucas Veuve / Handicap International