Thursday 1 March 2018
Reactivating aid in Syria

Syria emergency. Now that the crisis eased a bit, aid funding decreased as well, but there are still many needs to be overcome. Robert, you coordinate all social projects supported by AMU on the field. What actions do you take?

Yes, aid comes less while the need is always greater. This situation has been going on for 7 years now… The projects range from food security, as an income supplement – 1 kg of meat costs 10 $, on a salary of 60 $, so the cost of living is very high – help with schooling to allow private education, because public education is poor or non-existent. Then there is the health aid, because the public health that previously guaranteed free assistance to everyone, today, due to the lack of doctors, medicines and medical equipment, cannot meet minimum compliance standards. For 2018 we have forecast a program of assistance to 200 families in Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, and on the coastal territory.

Beyond aid to families, some more stable projects have been structured:

– Two after-school classes in Damascus and Homs, with 100 children each, both Christians and Muslims, to respond to the emergency of primary schooling. From the countryside they arrive in the cities, with a very low background, and the classes are very crowded (even 60 children), because teachers are missing and therefore the performance is very low;

– Two specific health projects, aimed at the economic support of cancer and dialysis treatments. There is a front desk office for the presentation of the various cases, and then people are assisted economically, psychologically and morally. It’s like treating gravity within another greater gravity; that is treating an illness in an already critical situation of subsistence.

– A school for deaf and dumb children, already active since before the war. It is the only school in Aleppo that offers the professional assistance of 30 operators to 75 children.

These are also job opportunities for the population…

All these projects offer a chance to many young people. At this moment the work question is fundamental. We are dreaming that in the near future there will be the possibility of working on microcredit to restart activities. Aleppo was a city full of merchants, which today would restart immediately, but the initial capital is missing. Being able to give them this chance means giving the possibility to go back to work and therefore to maintain their own family.

Why many continue to leave instead…

The exodus, especially of Christians, is unstoppable. The reason is the insecurity and the little work there is. The church suffers from this; historically this is the land of Christians, before the arrival of Islam. The church tries to do everything possible to help and support, but the resources are very few. And you cannot stop people from leaving. I recently went to see a young couple, newly married, waiting for a baby. They are getting ready to move to Sweden. That is a potential of the country that goes away. The majority of young people are in the army. There are some university students, or teenagers. But the age-range 25-40 is not there anymore. Christian neighbourhoods are empty. In the city of Aleppo between 40 to 130 thousand Christians are estimated to have been missing. Two-thirds have left their homes, while so many displaced Muslims arrived from their destroyed cities. This demographic change in the geography of the city has been felt very much so.

What reflection does this have on the interreligious dialogue?

Of course, it is challenging, but I must also point out a positive result. It is true that Christians have left, but it happened – in Aleppo for example – that the Christians considered themselves a bit like the country’s elite, chic, educated, the city where they eat better, maybe a little closed as group. With the war, since the Muslim areas have been hit, many have taken refuge in the Christian areas. So the Christians opened up to the Muslims, who were looking for houses, etc. They had to welcome them. The Bishops say: this is the testimony we must give. The Latin bishop of Aleppo, your Excellency Armando Bortolaso, during the war told me: “Now is the time to be true Christians.

At the same time, Muslims have got to know Christians more closely. They have been touched by the example of love and tangible help they gave. They were intrigued, during the Christmas period they entered the churches to see what the nativity crib was, or the Christmas tree … for them it’s all new. If at the beginning there was a certain reluctance, now they are happy to have come close to the Christian community. There is some positive; there is some negative, of course. But all of them, the state, the Christian and Muslim associations, the churches and the mosques, have all done everything to help the population, without differences. The positive thing of this war is that it has united us more among Syrians, because we are all living the same drama.”


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