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  • I've been in Afghanistan for 21 years.

  • I work for the Red Cross

  • and I'm a physical therapist.

  • My job is to make arms and legs --

  • well it's not completely true.

  • We do more than that.

  • We provide the patients,

  • the Afghan disabled,

  • first with the physical rehabilitation

  • then with the social reintegration.

  • It's a very logical plan,

  • but it was not always like this.

  • For many years, we were just providing them

  • with artificial limbs.

  • It took quite many years

  • for the program to become what it is now.

  • Today, I would like to tell you a story,

  • the story of a big change,

  • and the story of the people

  • who made this change possible.

  • I arrived in Afghanistan

  • in 1990

  • to work in a hospital

  • for war victims.

  • And then, not only for war victims,

  • but it was for any kind of patient.

  • I was also working

  • in the orthopedic center, we call it.

  • This is the place where we make the legs.

  • At that time

  • I found myself

  • in a strange situation.

  • I felt not quite ready

  • for that job.

  • There was so much to learn.

  • There were so many things new to me.

  • But it was a terrific job.

  • But as soon as the fighting intensified,

  • the physical rehabilitation was suspended.

  • There were many other things to do.

  • So the orthopedic center was closed

  • because physical rehabilitation

  • was not considered a priority.

  • It was a strange sensation.

  • Anyway, you know every time I make this speech --

  • it's not the first time -- but it's an emotion.

  • It's something that comes out from the past.

  • It's 21 years,

  • but they are still all there.

  • Anyway, in 1992,

  • the Mujahideen took all Afghanistan.

  • And the orthopedic center was closed.

  • I was assigned to work for the homeless,

  • for the internally displaced people.

  • But one day, something happened.

  • I was coming back

  • from a big food distribution in a mosque

  • where tens and tens of people

  • were squatting in terrible conditions.

  • I wanted to go home. I was driving.

  • You know, when you want to forget,

  • you don't want to see things,

  • so you just want to go to your room, to lock yourself inside

  • and say, "That's enough."

  • A bomb fell not far from my car --

  • well, far enough, but big noise.

  • And everybody disappeared from the street.

  • The cars disappeared as well.

  • I ducked.

  • And only one figure

  • remained in the middle of the road.

  • It was a man in a wheelchair

  • desperately trying to move away.

  • Well I'm not a particularly brave person,

  • I have to confess it,

  • but I could not just ignore him.

  • So I stopped the car

  • and I went to help.

  • The man was without legs

  • and only with one arm.

  • Behind him there was a child, his son,

  • red in the face

  • in an effort to push the father.

  • So I took him into a safe place.

  • And I ask, "What are you doing out in the street

  • in this situation?"

  • "I work," he said.

  • I wondered, what work?

  • And then I ask an even more stupid question:

  • "Why don't you have the prostheses?

  • Why don't you have the artificial legs?"

  • And he said, "The Red Cross has closed."

  • Well without thinking, I told him

  • "Come tomorrow.

  • We will provide you with a pair of legs."

  • The man, his name was Mahmoud,

  • and the child, whose name was Rafi, left.

  • And then I said, "Oh, my God. What did I say?

  • The center is closed,

  • no staff around.

  • Maybe the machinery is broken.

  • Who is going to make the legs for him?"

  • So I hoped that he would not come.

  • This is the streets of Kabul

  • in those days.

  • So I said, "Well I will give him some money."

  • And so the following day,

  • I went to the orthopedic center.

  • And I spoke with a gatekeeper.

  • I was ready to tell him,

  • "Listen, if someone such-and-such comes tomorrow,

  • please tell him that it was a mistake.

  • Nothing can be done.

  • Give him some money."

  • But Mahmoud and his son were already there.

  • And they were not alone.

  • There were 15, maybe 20, people like him waiting.

  • And there was some staff too.

  • Among them there was my right-hand man,

  • Najmuddin.

  • And the gatekeeper told me,

  • "They come everyday to see if the center will open."

  • I said, "No.

  • We have to go away. We cannot stay here."

  • They were bombing -- not very close -- but you could hear the noise of the bombs.

  • So, "We cannot stay here, it's dangerous.

  • It's not a priority."

  • But Najmuddin told me, "Listen now, we're here."

  • At least we can start repairing the prostheses, the broken prostheses of the people

  • and maybe try to do something

  • for people like Mahmoud."

  • I said, "No, please. We cannot do that.

  • It's really dangerous.

  • We have other things to do."

  • But they insisted.

  • When you have 20 people

  • in front of you, looking at you

  • and you are the one who has to decide ...

  • So we started doing some repairs.

  • Also one of the physical therapists

  • reported that Mahmoud

  • could be provided with a leg,

  • but not immediately.

  • The legs were swollen

  • and the knees were stiff,

  • so he needed a long preparation.

  • Believe me, I was worried

  • because I was breaking the rules.

  • I was doing something

  • that I was not supposed to do.

  • In the evening,

  • I went to speak with the bosses at the headquarters,

  • and I told them -- I lied --

  • I told them, "Listen, we are going to start

  • a couple of hours per day,

  • just a few repairs."

  • Maybe some of them are here now.

  • (Laughter)

  • So we started.

  • I was working, I was going everyday

  • to work for the homeless.

  • And Najmuddin was staying there,

  • doing everything and reporting on the patients.

  • He was telling me, "Patients are coming."

  • We knew that many more patients

  • could not come, prevented by the fighting.

  • But people were coming.

  • And Mahmoud was coming every day.

  • And slowly, slowly

  • week after week

  • his legs were improving.

  • The stump or cast prosthesis was made,

  • and he was starting

  • the real physical rehabilitation.

  • He was coming every day,

  • crossing the front line.

  • A couple of times I crossed the front line

  • in the very place where Mahmoud and his son were crossing.

  • I tell you, it was something so sinister

  • that I was astonished he could do it every day.

  • But finally, the great day arrived.