A Prosthetic Leg, Relay Messengers Help Unite Hakimullah with His Family

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    A Prosthetic Leg, Relay Messengers Help Unite Hakimullah with His Family

    Reuniting the young boy with his family required the skills of a team of detectives. But, ironically, a lost limb held an important clue for the ICRC’s Restoring Family Links team.

    It was a cold day in January when a traumatised Hakimullah was brought by an unidentified person to the Mirwaiz Regional Hospital in Kandhar, Afghanistan. The disabled boy was unable to speak or feed himself. His physical and mental health needed urgent attention.

    Hakimullah needed treatment and counselling. And along with the specialists and their professional help in the freezing conditions of 2022’s early winter months, Hakimullah also needed the warmth of human care.

    The young boy had been separated from his family amid violence and did not have anyone to attend to him at the hospital – a role that staff and volunteers filled in as the hospital’s partners, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Afghan Red Crescent Society provided for the young boy for three months till his condition stabilised. The team appointed three people to look after Hakimullah in different shifts – feeding, cleaning and giving medicines.

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    While treating him, the ICRC team caring for him attempted to connect the young lad with his family. But he had no recollection of where he came from or in what conditions he lost his leg. With no names, locations or hints, it was difficult to help him locate his bearings. Looking for leads to trace his family was not easy.

    Needle in the haystack?

    Then, one day, an ICRC staff member noticed an old, fading label on Hakimullah’s prosthetic leg. The label also had a code number. Would that help?

    ICRC has a history of providing prosthetic limbs to victims of mine blasts across the war-torn country as elsewhere in the world. Clues come in all hues. In Hakimullah’s case, the fading label and the code it carried just the lead the ICRC Restoring Family Links staff were looking for.

    Using the faded label and the number it carried as a lead, the staff contacted the organisation the label belonged to. Of course, it was confirmed, the organisation had provided the prosthesis. What’s more, the RFL team were able to determine that the limb was part of a prosthetics relief supply to the Gizab district in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province.

    Over years of war, several thousands of innocent people had lost their legs to mine blasts. Hakimullah would be one of those many thousands. And the RFL team knew that people came from all over, even from neighbouring districts or provinces to avail of a prosthetic leg. So, it could be quite a task locating Hakimullah’s folks.

    So, was Gizab Hakimullah’s home?

    Through its RFL services, the ICRC and the Afghan Red Crescent trace family members separated by armed conflicts or situation of violence, natural disasters, migration or detention. This service also helps restore and maintain family contact and, when needed, facilitates the reunification of children with their family members. In 2021, the ICRC clarified the fate and whereabouts of 511 such missing persons.

    Gizab was the place the RFL team had to start from to trace Hakimullah’s family. The ICRC team sought support from Afghan Red Crescent volunteers and the elders of the area’s communities.

    “Since there is hardly any telephone network in the area, the elders sent people out on motorbikes to spread the word in the villages. This finally led us to Hakimullah’s family in the remote Naikozai village,” says Mohammad Omar Agha, who works with the ICRC’s RFL programme in Kandahar and helped to reunite the boy with his family.

    Undoing a funeral!

    Coming out of the blue, the news came as a pleasant surprise to the family. When the family heard the news that Hakimullah had been found, they could not believe it.

    “We all thought he had died and even held a funeral for him along with mourning ceremonies according to our tradition. We are overjoyed to see him alive,” says Zia-ul-Haq, Hakimullah’s uncle who travelled to Kandhar from Iran to Kandahar to see the boy and take him home. The family have sought refuge in Iran.

    “We had waited a long time for him and lost hope. So even when the ICRC staff contacted us, we did not expect to see him in good health. When I finally saw him at the hospital, I could not hold back my tears or stop myself from running to him,” Zia-ul-Haq says, adding, “We cannot imagine the pain Hakimullah has gone through at such a young age, but we are overjoyed to have him back with us.”

    After more than two years of separation, being reunited with his family feels like a dream to the young boy. His relatives mirror his emotions and cry in joy because they had no hope of seeing him alive.


    Image: ICRC

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