Ali Srour was 18 when he lost his lower left leg. He was out on a trip with his friends when he accidentally missed his usual turning. The moment he strayed into an unknown field, his life would change forever.
“I knew it was a risky manoeuvre – I thought there might be mines in that area. I saw a mine in the distance and tried to get out safely, but sadly I stepped on one. It was hidden. I tried to get out of the minefield by myself. Everyone heard and came running but I was shouting telling them not to come. I was crawling out and once I did they were already there waiting for me.”
Landmines are the exploded remnants of war. The scars which litter fractured lands. Around one in five people are directly affected by landmines in Lebanon, a country with a population of around six million.
Ali is one of countless landmine victims here. He lives in his hometown of Ayta ash Shab on the Blue Line, the politically fractious border between Lebanon and Israel. In 2006, a battle between Israel and Hezbollah destroyed much of the town. In the same year, an estimated four million cluster bombs were dropped on Lebanon, of which 40 per cent did not explode on impact and are still live. This widespread landmine contamination continues to take away people’s lives.
“Honestly, it was hard. In the very beginning after the accident, you have to make a choice either to go on or to surrender. I chose to go on.”
Since 2004, Ali has played for the Lebanese landmine survivors football team. Set up by the Lebanese Welfare Association for the Handicapped (LWAH) to help survivors cope with the social side of their rehabilitation, it is a group of middle aged men who, during their years of living in a repeatedly war-torn region, have become amputees. The team helps them come to terms with living with their disabilities.
They train once a week in Saloub stadium, near Sarafand in the south of the country. It is a corrugated iron covered astroturf pitch where the coach, Dr Bachir, a physiotherapist, is constantly frustrated by the team’s lack of passing. The team has competed in international competitions at the Arab Games for the Disabled, where they won gold.
“It’s a place to challenge your disability. The football team is a space for us to prove ourselves, to show that our disabilities will not overcome us. LWAH’s most important service is to give the opportunity to practice football. I used to play football before and it was a dream to be able to play it again.”
The team gives the players back their self-belief and helps survivors put their disabilities behind them. It is a route through which they can continue their lives happily and productively.
“It’s created a challenge to the landmine itself. I can’t be beaten by the landmine or the person who planted it. It can’t stop me. We will continue to live our lives and we are still doing the things that we can do. It’s a source of energy that lifts your spirit. That’s why the team means the world to me.”