Education of Syrian Students Funded by Sir Bobby Charlton Foundation
A group of Syrian prosthetists and orthotists are training to become Trainers in prosthetics and orthotics, together with colleagues from 11 other countries in Middle East, Asia, Africa and Europe. They are now in the fourth semester of their studies towards a BSc in Prosthetics and Orthotics and the highest professional qualification on the international level. With these qualifications, they will be able to train others, including newcomers into the profession.
As of this summer, our Syrian students are supported by the Sir Bobby Charlton Foundation on their way to qualification as trainers. Everyone involved in the project breathed a sigh of relief upon this development, since the cut in funding that happened last year threatened the continuation of the project. Sir Bobby Charlton Foundation, who “focus [their] resources on working with civilian populations in developing countries where conflicts past and present fuel poverty, disadvantage and discrimination“, will with this collaboration make a difference for the Syrian people with disabilities, who will gain through accessibility to assistive devices.
For people with physical disabilities, assistive devices are essential for an independent life. Assistive devices are manufactured individually by qualified professionals who are trained through programs normally 2-3 years in duration for the associate level (according to the international standards, associate level is required for working with patients). On the global scale, there is a dramatic lack of professionals who are trained and qualified to manufacture assistive devices. This leaves many amputees, children with disabilities and other people in need of these services without any access to them. Assistive devices help people who face physical challenges of different kinds to return to life, socialize, go to work, play with their friends and be more independent. Prosthetists and orthotists are professionals who help people in need of assistive devices get their lives back.
With internationally recognized educational programs in prosthetics and orthotics, Human Study works against this situation by educating professionals who are capable of, not only individually manufacturing assistive devices for a broad range of pathologies, but also who can serve as trainers of others.
Our Syrian students provide P&O services to Syrian people with disabilities in Syria or in Turkey, along the Syrian border. All of them are students in this educational program because they want to become trainers in prosthetics and orthotics so that they can help people with disabilities in their country. Several of them have already studied and are engineers, like Salah Alaghbar who is is a 30-year-old biomedical engineer studying in our program to become a trainer in P&O.
WHAT IS OUR APPROACH?
We deliver our educational programs using our blended learning model of education. Our students stay in their countries and continue to work with patients whilst studying. We have created, in collaboration with the Mahidol University and the ISPO (the International Organisation for Prosthetics and Orthotics), a BSc in P&O program that satisfies the international standards for the highest professional qualification possible – the Professional Prosthetist/Orthotist level. This is the trainer level and also the profile capable of treating patients whose pathologies are more complex. Our BSc program is available to Associate level professionals who have the potential and motivation to continue their professional development and, most importantly, to help their people by making the education in P&O available locally. Development of local training cadre is the precursor for local development of educational opportunities in the profession.
Salah, a student in the program, wanted to continue his studies towards masters in biomedical engineering, but war led him towards P&O and he decided to train as a trainer in P&O, because he realizes that due to war P&O professionals are much needed by the Syrian people and he wants to help. “I really appreciate the level of education in Human Study, it adds new experience to me every new semester, also it adds value to my knowledge and experience and lets me solve new problems in my daily work.”
Fatima Almubarak is a mother of two for whom prosthetics and orthotics is not a profession but a path of life, a calling. She finds it most rewarding to see the smiles of her happy patients who have acquired their first assistive device which will help them get their life back and be able to move independently again. As a mother, she is especially happy when she can help children.
Fatima Almubarak is a mother of two who understands that for a woman it usually feels more comfortable if the clinician treating her is a woman. “With the increase in frequency and continuity of the war activities, the number of those affected is still increasing, which leads to the increase in cases amongst women and children. For this reason, more women working in this field are needed, to treat these cases”, Fatima says.
Humam Sadek was led to the profession by the war in his country and the catastrophic consequences it continues cause. Like Humam, many people working in the field are ‘lateral entrants’ coming from other professions into P&O because of a sudden enormous increase in need in their countries, usually due to war and other disasters increasing the incidence of injury. Humam was forced by war to leave his home and he lives now in Turkey, where he works for NSPPL on serving mainly Syrian patients. He travels to Syria every day to treat patients there. Although his life and working circumstances are very difficult, he is very motivated to continue with this educational program. “My dream was always to be an engineer until the war started in Syria. I started learning prosthetics and orthotics in 2014 and worked on providing services to the civilian amputees and disabled persons. In the beginning, I started to learn in the P&O filed because of the major need for it and because I considered it my duty. Now, this has become my passion, especially after I graduated from [Associate level] program with high grades and had the chance to continue my education.”
Abdulrahim Alhajkhalouf lives and works in Syria. Due to war activities, Abdulrahim was forced to move from one city in Syria to another (from Idlib to Al Bab) with his family, which influenced his participation in the program a lot. Together with Abdulrahim, our team finds ways to still keep him on this important path and enable him to reach his goals.
Abdulrahim realizes how important it is for him to acquire this training: “Due to the ongoing war in Syria and the large number of causalities, amputated and paralyzed people, I joined this program to provide help to those disabled and vulnerable people and help them come to life again. I look forward to finishing this BSc program, when I will be able to educate and train new generations of technicians to support them, and us, in our noble and humanitarian mission.”
Our approach to tackling the lack of trained professionals by education the trainers locally is the most important aspect of our current activities in the region. Luai Alhallaak, a former electrical engineer working now as the head of educational activities in NSPPL, says that “by completing the academic degree with my colleagues we will be able to educate new generations of specialists to serve the huge numbers of disabled people created by the long war in Syria. I see our international existence with every academic advancement we achieve with Human Study and will create the P&O field future for our country internationally. We are transferring the workshops, and also the knowledge we gain to our colleagues inside Syria which reflects on the served beneficiaries by the quality and type of services and we need to keep on learning and teaching for better future of our beneficiaries.”
Khaled Salah is our student with the longest practical experience in manufacturing prostheses and orthoses, who says that, as any profession, also prosthetics and orthotics should follow the pace of the world by upgrading the knowledge and skills of service providers to match the international standards. “I love learning prosthetics and orthotics. P&O is highly required in Syria and by completing this educational program I can contribute to educating the new generations of professionals in Syria.”