AFGHANISTAN: What I’ve learnt about bullets you won’t find in books

A patient wheels himself across the grounds at Emergency Hospital in Lashkargah, Helmand Province, Afghanistan.“Seeing the roses blooming in winter is an amazing sight; here in Lashkar-gah, our hospital for war victims has a beautiful inner garden that’s always well looked after by our gardeners. And the part of the garden that lies behind the hospital has a little play area for children. There are slides, swings and roundabouts – all kept in good condition and freshly painted red and white. They look so inviting… And here at the hospital, there’s certainly no lack of children: a third of our patients are women and children. They’re the so-called “collateral damage” of this endless war. They’re here at our hospital because they’ve suffered war wounds, caused by bullets, shrapnel or landmines.

And do you want to know what a landmine does to a child? I don’t want to describe the kinematics of these injuries, or the harm produced by bullets blasting into such tender skin, or the terrible mutilations caused by these explosive devices. I just want to say this: for the children I see in the hospital, those landmines, bullets and pieces of shrapnel have taken away the legs for climbing the steps of the slide; they’ve amputated the arms for holding onto the swing; they’ve blinded the eyes for seeing the roses and the red and white of the roundabouts; they’ve disfigured the faces behind the candid, open smiles of children playing.

That’s what I’ve learnt about bullets, shrapnel and landmines. And it’s something you won’t find in the books.”

Alberto, EMERGENCY NGO anaesthetist in Afghanistan

EMERGENCY has been operating its Surgical Centre in Lashkar-Gah, Helmand Province (Southern Afghanistan) since late 2004. In that time, it has seen over 100,000 outpatients, and has conducted over 30,000 surgical operations. Over 30% of the admitted patients in Lashkar-gah Surgical Centre are under the age of 14. To provide free, high-quality care to those living around the province, the Surgical Centre is also linked to a network of First Aid Posts (FAPs) in nearby villages.

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