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Celebrating International Wheelchair Day with a story of hope

Words by Abi Scaife

The world gets more accessible every day, with new inventions and incredible tech - but for 14-year-old Hassan in Syria, a simple, ordinary wheelchair has been life-changing. 

Today, the 1st of March, is International Wheelchair Day - and Smiley News wanted to share this incredible story of hope and success, to celebrate just how important mobility aids like wheelchairs are.

Hassan lost the ability to walk at age six, due to muscular dystrophy. Initially, without a wheelchair or other mobility aids, Hassan was confined to his family home in Latakia, northwestern Syria for almost a decade.

Just over a year ago, after the earthquakes that had a devastating effect on Syria, Hassan and his family were taken to temporary accommodation with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.


A story of hope, and joy.

This incredible charity not only gave Hassan and his family temporary shelter, and helped them to recover from the earthquakes - they were able to provide him with a wheelchair.

“All my life I couldn't leave the house and play with my friends in the neighbourhood. After I got the chair and we returned to our house, I began to recognise the roads and people.” Hassan recalls.

In the midst of the terrible destruction in the region, there was hope for Hassan and his family. Despite everything, for the first time in almost a decade, Hassan was able to play outside with his friends and family, and experience the joy that had always been kept from him.

The help provided to him by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent will have lifelong implications for Hassan - the wheelchair has given him freedom, independence, and a new degree of safety in a country that is still plagued by conflict after almost 13 years.

Finally, Hassan has been able to visit the beach near his home and watch the sea as he has been dreaming: “I sit in front of the sea and enjoy the view every day. One day, I hope I can recover so that I can swim in the sea.”


Hassan is just one of the approximately 28 per cent of people in Syria estimated as disabled – around double the global average. After 13 years of conflict, this isn’t a surprise - however, many disabled people like Hassan find it difficult to flee during conflict due to a lack of assistive devices.

The incredibly hard work of the charity.

Thanks to the help of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, Hassan is in a much better position than many - but the situation is difficult to say the least. Thankfully, this incredible charity is working almost non-stop to bring help to those people who are so desperately in need.

Daphne is one of an amazing team of emergency responders deployed to Syria with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ (IFRC) to support her colleagues on the ground.

“My colleagues from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent were exhausted. After the earthquake they had been working non-stop, with many of them sleeping in the office for weeks.”

She tells of the mental toll the situation has taken on herself and her colleagues - but still they remain on the ground in Syria, determined to help people through the most difficult days of their life.


So far, Red Cross and Red Crescent teams have supported three and half million people in Syria, bringing hope to boys like Hassan.

You can help by donating to the British Red Cross Turkey-Syria Earthquake Appeal.

About the photographer

Working with the Red Cross, photographer Jani Savolainen travelled to Syria where he documented the devastation across the country caused by a series of earthquakes that struck northern Syria and southern Türkiye a year ago. Savolainen was deployed as a part of the Syria earthquake emergency response, arriving in Damascus just one week after the earthquake. 

Previously he has worked with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) at the Middle East and North Africa office based in Lebanon, with regular visits to Syria and around the region.

Charity check-in 

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article. 

The British Red Cross. This charity helps people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. They are part of a global voluntary network, responding to conflicts. Support them here.

CARE International UK. CARE is there to help people when they need it most. They are one of the world's leading humanitarian agencies, delivering life-saving assistance when disaster strikes. Find out more here.

Goods for Good. This is an organisation which offers global humanitarian aid by transporting donations such as industry overstock from generous partners to help communities in need. Learn more here.

This article aligns with the UN SDGs Reduced Inequalities and Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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