A creative approach to reintegration

27 Jan 2023

Yousef Alwikhery is an occupational therapist with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) at Al-Awda hospital in the northern Gaza Strip. He shares his experience supporting patients with physical injuries and disabilities  and their roads to recovery.


Yousef Alwikhery in his work room, where he makes and fits splints and other devices for patients. © Ola Bardawil/MSF

Occupational therapy is not a widely known or understood field of practice in Gaza’s medical system, but I think the profession’s approach to reintegrating patients back into ‘normal’ life is essential in Gaza.

Many of my patients have sustained injuries in one of the many recent escalations of violence. They might require occupational therapy to relearn to dress themselves after having a limb amputated, or to regain their motor skills so they can re-enter the workforce.

Occupational therapy takes a creative, innovative approach to helping patients reintegrate.

Occupational therapy takes a creative, innovative approach to helping patients reintegrate.

My work is made more challenging by the fact that we have the blockade to contend with, which makes it extremely difficult to leave to get more training or to acquire necessary equipment. For example, I often make and fit splints and other devices for my patients.

Some may help alleviate pain, others may help a patient with an amputated limb grasp household items like a toothbrush or a broom. Typically, occupational therapists will use a water bath device that heats plastic sheets before shaping them into assistive devices. It took over a year to import one into Gaza; while waiting for it to arrive, I used a hairdryer and a water boiler. 

Adjustment and autonomy

As occupational therapists, we really become part of our patients’ psychosocial support system—an aspect of our work which is not widely known.

Here at Al-Awda hospital, I work with patients from their arrival in the inpatient ward, through to our outpatient clinic, all the way to their discharge. We spend a great deal of time with our patients and their families, helping them adjust to their new reality. 

[Increasing] a patient’s independence has brought some of the best and happiest moments of my life.

One of our major responsibilities is to come up with strategies for patients to regain their independence, which is particularly important for their mental wellbeing. Being unable to take a bath or go to the toilet independently can have severe psychological consequences. We help patients learn to do these tasks independently. 

You can’t imagine how happy patients are when you save them the embarrassment of having to ask a family member to help them to the toilet. [Increasing] a patient’s independence has brought some of the best and happiest moments of my life.

Ahmad’s story

One of my patients was a 32-year-old man called Ahmad*. Ahmad’s right hand had been amputated after he was injured during the escalation of violence in Gaza in May 2021.

The amputation of his dominant hand had impacted his ability to find employment as a hairdresser and damaged his ability to conduct everyday activities such as eating, dressing and bathing. This had a very negative impact on his psychological condition. 

Yousef Alwikhery

Yousef Alwikhery works with a young patient in Al Awda hospital. © Ola Bardawil/MSF

We worked together for six months, gradually improving his ability to do daily activities independently, which helped improve his mental health and outlook. He also took on a leadership role with the other patients he met in and on the way to the hospital, building a network of friends and encouraging them to regularly attend their treatment sessions.

His lively personality and positive approach to life were inspiring to me. Despite his relatively young age and poor economic situation, Ahmad could still be optimistic and laugh and joke with his friends.

Although the work of occupational therapists is not very visible or well understood in Gaza, I can see what a positive impact we can have—both here and in other places around the world. For me, it’s not just a profession. I believe [occupational therapy] plays a significant role in helping people resume their normal life and participate in the life of their community.

*Name changed to protect identity. 

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