These people are the real heroes

Healing Wounds is an important photography exhibition that highlights the horrific reality of war and the amazing work Doctors Without Borders are doing

In 2015, Manal was injured when a missile exploded in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. Alessio Mamo portrait of Manal won the 2018 World Press Photo, People, Singles, 2nd prize. Photo: Alessio Mamo

by Maán Jalal & Staff Reporter

Culture 1 May 2019

Healing Wounds is a photography exhibition telling the real life stories of people from the middle east who have suffered horrific injuries from war.

A collaboration between Doctors Without Borders (MSF), with Alliance Francaise and the French Business Council in Dubai, UAE it specifically features stories of patients treated at the MSF Reconstructive Surgery Hospital in Jordan.

In 2017, award-winning Italian photographer and journalist Alessio Mamo along with journalist Marta Bellingreri, a fluent Arabic speaker, spent time at the hospital building relationships with the patients of the reconstructive surgery programme (RSP).

RSP was established to treat people injured in war and unrest. Alessio and Marta recorded the stories of some patients and photographed them.

Check out our mini doc on Healing Wounds and the people behind the project

For the 10 year anniversary of the MSF Reconstructive Surgery Program Alessio and Marta were asked to create the exhibition Healing Wounds, to tell the stories of 12 patients from the hospital and program. The exhibition features 20 photos of patients in different phases of their recovery.

Healing Wounds has been shown in Dubai, UAE as well as in Italy.

In 2018, Alessio won the World Press Photo, second prize singles, People category, with his picture of Manal, a young Iraqi girl hospitalised there.

The MSF Reconstructive Surgery Hospital in Jordan was set up in 2006 in response to the high numbers of severely injured people MSF saw during the Iraq war. Since then, the hospital has grown to serve patients from across the region, including Syria, Palestine and Yemen.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is an international, independent, medical humanitarian organization. They deliver emergency aid to people affected by epidemics, natural disasters and war.

Below are the images from the exhibition followed by some of the stories about each person. All photos were taken by Alessio Mamo and all the words are by Marta Bellingreri.


Aisha – or Ayyoush, as the nurses like to call her – always wears pretty, colorful dresses, and a straw hat with roses on her head. During day trips from MSF’s hospital to the Children’s Museum or to one of the many playgrounds in Amman, eight-year-old Aisha loves collecting roses and balloons. Along with Noor, the hospital’s occupational therapist, Aisha practices doing and undoing buttons with her left hand, as well as drawing lines and circles, and cutting with scissors.

Aisha was just six months old when an overturned candle set fire to her bed at home in Ibb, in Yemen. She received burns down the left side of her face and arm. After four operations in Yemen, she has had multiple rounds of plastic surgery at MSF’s hospital in Amman to reduce the scars and muscle contractures. Aisha has a rest of three to six months between each round of surgery, when she and her father go back to Yemen. “Ayyoush is doing better,” says her father. “I love seeing her dance – she always dances at home in Yemen.”


“At 8 am, when I started work, I felt something was going to happen, but I didn’t know what,” says Haidar. Later that day the 42-year-old electrician from the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, was high up on a cherry-picker repairing electrical wires when a car bomb exploded nearby, killing large numbers of people and leaving Haidar in a critical condition.

With his right forearm amputated and his left leg severely injured, as well as infected, the father of two arrived at MSF’s hospital in Amman in February 2017, unable to walk or flex his arm. Six months and eight operations later, Haidar’s infection has been successfully treated, he is walking independently and, after regular physiotherapy, is once again able to move his arm comfortably, without pain. “I feel my life is starting from the beginning,” says Haidar. ”Everything is new again – my new leg, my arm which is getting better, and also my life with my wife.”



“Russian, Syrian… I don’t know. There were so many airplanes dropping bombs in those days in 2016,” says Madhor. A farmer from rural Hama governorate, in Syria, Madhor was sitting under an olive tree with his seven children when a barrel bomb hit them, killing two of the children. He remembers the moment that the bomb dropped, but then he lost consciousness for three days. He awoke in a hospital in Hama to find he had lost an eye and his left leg was bloody and broken. “I just thought I would die,” says Madhor. “I also lost my teeth, and for three months I almost didn’t eat.”

Madhor can now walk with crutches, but it remains painful. After multiple operations at MSF’s hospital in Amman, the intensive physiotherapy has had positive results: Madhor can now enjoy days away from the hospital visiting his wife Layla and their five remaining children in Jordan’s Azraq refugee camp. He can also walk the couple of hundred meters to the hospital’s nearest mosque, for a calm moment of prayer in his ongoing recovery.


Since arriving at MSF’s hospital in Amman earlier this year, 11-year-old Manal has made a lot of friends while taking part in activities run by the psychosocial team. On Mondays, when Isabel, the music teacher, comes to play music with the younger patients, Manal loves to play the guitar.

In 2015, Manal was injured when a missile exploded in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. She was left with burns and muscle contractures to her forehead, neck, right ear, eyelid, right elbow and wrist. Before coming to Jordan, Manal had had no surgery. She had difficulty closing her right eye, which stayed slightly open while she slept, disturbing her rest. In MSF’s hospital, the physiotherapists massage her eye and teach her how to do it on her own. Since having surgery and intensive physiotherapy, Manal is able to close her eyes and sleep properly, as well as use her hands to pick out tunes on the guitar.


“Bombs don’t look anyone in the face,” says Mohammad. ”They kill everything – humans and animals – they just fall and kill.” In November 2016, Mohammad, a 23-year-old shepherd from a rural Homs governorate, in Syria, was grazing his sheep when he found himself on the edge of a battle between Syrian soldiers and opposition forces. In the mêlée, a grenade exploded in his face, tearing apart his chin and destroying his teeth.

Mohammad was left unable to speak or eat properly. His father, Abu Ahmed, used to feed him, but it was excruciatingly painful. When he arrived in Jordan, Mohammad permanently covered his face with a keffiyeh so that no one could see his injuries. But after 35 maxillofacial operations over two years, his condition has improved dramatically.

“I can speak and eat now,” says Mohammad, “but more than that, I have learned that dreams can be realized, which is something I didn’t understand before.” While spending time with other patients and keeping in touch with his friends in Syria, Mohammad has learnt to read and write Arabic for the first time. “My wish is to return to Syria where we have family, neighbors and friends,” says Mohammad. “And of course, my sheep.”


“The last thing I remember was being in my car in Aden,” says Qatada. “When I woke up, I could feel pain all over my body. I couldn’t use my hands, my right arm was fractured, my left was disabled and both my legs had been amputated.”

Qatada arrived in a wheelchair at MSF’s hospital in Amman, where he was fitted with prosthetic legs, though on the advice of his doctor he is not currently using them due to a recurring heart condition. He has had complex orthopaedic surgery on both arms, including a nerve transplant. Now he is able to use his hands for everyday tasks such as using his phone and dressing himself, and has also taught himself to write again. Testament to his spirit, Qatada and his wife Kifah had their third son a year ago and hope to be resettled to a Western country in the future.


“In our family we love these moments when we eat all together. We are five sisters and two brothers, so it is never silent! But once when we were having dinner, a bomb hit the house and injured all of us.” The 13 year-old shy Shamsa and the younger Khitam were the two most seriously injured of the family.

Shamsa’s face was deeply deformed due to the severe burns caused by the explosion of the bomb. Now the family lives in Mafraq, a northern Jordanian city far from their hometown Aleppo and where a large number of Syrian refugees have resettled in the past five years. At the final stage of her surgery, the plastic surgeon has performed a tissue expander in her neck, enabling him to grow extra skin that would help to repair her damaged face. Shamsa has made happy friendships with the other injured children, and she always gets excited about spending time outside the hospital, when the psychosocial team take the kids to museums, playgrounds and entertainments areas.


During the 2011 revolution against former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, Wa’el attended a protest in the main square of the city of Taiz. “Thousands of us were crying for freedom and dignity, but the police responded with brutality, shooting and setting fire to the crowd,” he said. Wa’el was left with third-degree burns to his face, head, back, legs and arms.

“After the attack, I used to stay in my room all the time because of how I looked,” says Wa’el. “But thanks to the many rounds of surgery, and thanks to the people here, I have become more comfortable in my skin and have made a lot of friends.” Wa’el is a passionate football fan, and keeps his collection of football shirts in his room at MSF’s hospital in Amman. “In Yemen, I used to work in my father’s workshop and then go to the sports club to play football,” he says. Now 28 years old, Wa’el has had 28 rounds of surgery, including 15 skin grafts and 13 tissue-expander insertions, which allow him to move his face and use his hands again.


Seventeen-year-old Yousef loves motorbikes. He used to spend hours riding his bike near his home in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, once the sun had set and the day’s heat had eased. On one of those evenings 18 months ago, a group of masked men harassed Yousef, stole his motorbike and then set him on fire, leaving him with severe burns over his upper body, neck and ears.

After receiving inappropriate medical treatment in Iraq, Yousef developed serious muscle contractures around his arms, back and neck. When he arrived at MSF’s hospital in Amman, his chin was stuck to his neck, his arms were stuck to his sides and he was unable to move his upper body. But thanks to complex surgery, Yousef is on his way to making a full recovery. He can now eat, drink, dress himself and move completely independently. Recently, on a trip to the outskirts of Amman, Yousef got on a motorbike for the first time since the attack, and was thrilled to be able to scoot around without any pain.

For information on the program check out their website and follow them Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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