New Internationalist

PHOTO ESSAY: Football heroes, landmine survivors

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Sports have rehabilitating powers, finds David Shaw in his encounter with the Lebanese Landmine Survivors football team, where people play to become whole again.

Lebanon has been plagued by fighting for decades. A 15-year civil war, combined with multiple conflicts with neighbours such as Israel, have left vast swathes of the country riddled with unexploded landmines and cluster munitions. These pose a serious danger to many Lebanese citizens, with 903 people killed between 1975 and 2012. The 2,780 casualties who survived and the population whose land has become un-useable have had to rebuild their lives in an attempt to become independent and thrive once again.

The Landmine Survivors football team is a social initiative set up by LWAH (the Lebanese Welfare Association for the Handicapped) in 2001, which helps bring survivors together. They meet once a week to play football; some team members now compete in sporting events such as the upcoming Asian Para Games. The football team gives the players a new lease on life, a place where they can collectively learn how to come to terms with their injuries in a non-judgmental and accepting atmosphere.

Lebanese landmine survivors have the chance to play football at Salloub stadium, near Sarafhand, in the south of the country. The team is managed by local physiotherapist Dr Bachir.

Most of the team members play on prosthetic limbs; they became leg amputees as a result of their encounters with landmines. Some have also lost their arms.

Heated tactical discussions between players often ensue. Team manager Dr Bachir complains that the players ‘think with their boots, and not with their brains’, as they often shoot for glory rather than passing the ball.

Jihad Saloub, 39, had his accident in 2012, when he picked up a shiny object on the beach which exploded, removing his forearm and damaging much of the rest of his body. He is undergoing physiotherapy from LWAH doctor Sadak Mshawrab in preparation to receive a prosthetic arm.

Saloub felt very nervous of going out in public with his injury. Since joining the football team, he feels that life is not behind him any more: ‘I’m looking forward.’

From the World Cup to the Land Mine Survivors football team, players of all levels like to spend some time on the floor. In the future, the team would like to take part in the Paralympic World Cup, where they would have to adapt to playing without prostheses, using crutches.

Mohammed Ali El-Haj, 50, teases the goalkeeper he just beat. ‘I play football thinking that disability is not a barrier. Nothing can stop me.’

The Nabih Berri Rehabilitation Compound, run by LWAH, is a non-profit centre dealing with the rehabilitation of all disabilities in Lebanon. It hosts a prosthetic limb workshop which most Lebanese landmine survivors will pass through.

Hussein Ghandour is a landmine survivor who has also been a prosthetics technician for 13 years. He was seven when he had his accident.

Despite Lebanon’s rehabilitation efforts, there are still many landmines left. Lebanon’s population has increased hugely thanks to the influx of Syrians crossing the border to escape the crisis there, so more and more people are at risk of encountering an undetonated landmine. One in five people in the country are now directly affected by this issue.

David Shaw is a photojournalist from the UK whose work focuses on human rights and social issues. He has worked all over the world including India, Lebanon, Gaza, Egypt and Greece.

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