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Afghan boy dances with delight after getting new prosthetic leg

The International Committee of the Red Cross orthopedic hospital in Kabul shared a clip of five-year-old Ahmad Sayed Rahman dancing with his new prosthetic leg. (Video: International Committee of the Red Cross)

KABUL — Five-year-old Ahmad Sayed Rahman wanted to show off his new prosthetic leg to the physiotherapists and nurses who cared for him at an orthopedic center here. An Afghan song was playing in the background.

Getting to his feet, Ahmad danced in a circle, laughing and spinning with joy. Melgara Rahimi, one of the therapists, aimed her camera-phone at him. She posted her video on Facebook over the weekend, and then another staffer posted it on Twitter.

By Monday, the scene had gone viral.

Ahmad was crippled by a bullet as an 8-month-old during a village battle between Taliban and Afghan government forces and has been fitted with a series of prosthetic right legs over the past four years.

“It is me,” Ahmad said Tuesday morning, beaming as he watched the video at the orthopedic center run by the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kabul. Then he watched it again and ran to show it to his mother and the other nurses. 

Ahmad is one of thousands of Afghan children to receive artificial limbs because of war injuries since the hospital opened in 1988. He and his older sister, Salima, who was carrying him at the time, were both wounded when they were caught in the battle in Logar province four years ago.

Salima recovered from her injuries, but Ahmad lost his right leg. Since then, as he grew, the ICRC staff has fitted him for a series of artificial legs at no charge. This was his fourth. 

“I want him to go to school and become a doctor or a teacher,” said his mother, Raesa, during their visit to the center Tuesday. Like many Afghans, she uses one name. “I am so happy,” she said. “He is a good kid.”

The video posted by Rahimi spread more widely after Roya Musawi, a spokeswoman for the ICRC in Kabul, posted it on Twitter and on the ICRC social media page. Social media users praised the boy for his “priceless smile” and resilience. “I can’t stop crying,” one tweeted. 

According to the ICRC, more than 100,000 victims have received artificial limbs at the Kabul center over the past 30 years of successive conflicts. About 10 percent of them were children. Of about 60,000 Afghans currently registered without a limb, children account for between 8 to 10 percent.

Some cases have been especially tragic. Last April, seven children from one extended family lost limbs when unexploded ordnance detonated in Nangahar province. Three more children and an adult died in the blast. 

Alberto Cairo, the longtime director of the orthopedic center, said making artificial limbs for patients is a routine job for his team, and that the sight of people with them is commonplace in Kabul. But the video of Ahmad, he said, touched a chord.

“When you see a child with an artificial limb dancing, of course everybody watches it,” Cairo said. “I am very happy to know that this [video] is going everywhere.”

Within 24 hours after the video was published, Ahmad had become a celebrity. Journalists flooded the center to meet him and interview his mother. Ahmad obliged by spinning and dancing expertly before the cameras.

His mother, who has eight other children, said the family still lives in a poor village in Logar, traveling several hours to Kabul when Ahmad needs to visit the ICRC. She said her husband is too ill to work. 

“May this hospital remain forever,” she said, smiling toward her son. “God will reward those who founded it, in this world and beyond.”

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