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Letter from Aleppo No 17 (1 May 2014)

05/05/2014: Syria

To a journalist who asked me recently how I would describe the situation in Syria, I replied : rotten. For 3 years now the war has been going on ; neither of the 2 camps is in a position to win it militarily and there is no political solution on the horizon. The regional and world powers (as well as the media) appear to be uninterested in this conflict, which, however, they had encouraged, financed, armed, and perhaps planned. They now have other preoccupations : Crimea, Ukraine, Flight MH370, elections, and are accordingly leaving the situation in Syria to rot. And this to the detriment of the Syrians who see their country destroyed, its economy wiped out, its  patrimony plundered, its élite exiled, its riches stolen ; without forgetting the 150,000 dead, the 4 million refugees, the 8 million internally displaced, the acts of savagery and barbarism people cannot imagine and a confessional hatred unknown until now, Christians and Moslems having lived in harmony for centuries. Even the most ardent defenders of the régime and the fiercest partisans of reform did not want war, and especially not this one.

The situation in Aleppo goes from bad to worse with an intermittent but complete blockade of  persons and merchandise. The consequence is the impossibility to leave or enter the city and a scarcity of essential supplies : vegetables, fruit, meat, chicken, fuel, etc. Then suddenly after 10 to 15 days, the blockade is lifted to be reimposed some time later. Recently, water and electricity were cut for 11 consecutive days ; the sellers of generators and fuel were rubbing their hands. Fortunately, a year ago, a Protestant Christian association dug 20 wells in the churches of different quarters of Aleppo (they were followed in this by Moslem associations who did the same in the mosques). The Aleppans, therefore, have queued up in front of the churches and mosques to refill their water cans (return to the Middle Ages !). 
A rain of mortar shells falls every day on Aleppo killing dozens of persons and wounding as many. Snipers continue to cause ravages among pedestrians. Without mentioning the monstrous explosions of public buildings by explosives placed underground.

This deterioration of the situation has generated among Aleppans 3 feelings : fear, despair and suffering.

I think of the telephone calls from the displaced families, for whom we are responsible, to tell us about their fear, express their panic and ask us for advice when the shells are falling around them. And the mothers who refuse, certain days, to send their children to us for fear that our bus may become the target of a sniper or a mortar.

I think of all the young adults who dreamed of and planned a professional or family future and can no longer realize it. Having for 3 years resisted the temptation to leave the country, they are desperate and would emigrate if they had the possibility.

I think of those 7 families with 23 children living together in a cellar of 2 rooms (seen with our own eyes by our team on a home visit).

I think of the 23 victims killed by a shell on Sunday 27 April when they were queuing at a bakery to buy bread in the city centre and of the 19 others who died in the following 48 hours as a result of their wounds.

I think of all those people suffering from hunger, of that 5 month old baby fed on a bottle filled with diluted starch, for want of milk (eyewitnessed by our team on a home visit).

I think of young M. C. 18 years old who suffers from losing his transplanted kidney (following the loss of both kidney functions from sniper fire) for lack of antireject medication.

I think of N. M., that young Armenian girl of 20 years who had her liver, lungs and stomach  perforated by  a shell burst.

I think of  A. G., a young Moslem of 19 who had to suffer the amputation of both legs because he was in the street at a spot where a mortar shell fell. At present he is in intensive care in a serious state following septicemia.

I think of the old mother, K.H., who came to get consultation for neurotic problems and who told me that her younger son had been killed by a sniper and her daughter-in-law and her 4 children the next day by a shell.

Before these fears, despair and sufferings, we cannot be content with only offering our compassion. Before these challenges, we resist,  in solidarity with these suffering men and women.

To all civilians affected by war wounds, we the Marist Blues offer our programme « War Wounded ». In partnership with the Sisters of St Joseph of the St Louis Hospital, and the volunteer doctors and surgeons of this establishment (the best in Aleppo), we offer free treatment for civilians wounded by bullets or shells.

To all those desperate young adults, we offer, while awaiting better times, the M.I.T. (Marist Institute for Training). With the conferences which we organise (« Painting down the ages », « psychological orientation : from me to the discovery of self »etc.), they have a space for reflection and cultural enrichment. The 3 day Workshops give them the possibility of acquiring the knowledge and skills that can serve them later (study of the profitability of a project, how to write a  CV and prepare for an employment interview, the art of team direction, etc.).

To the babies, we offer a bed and milk (we are the only association distributing milk).

To the families of the displaced or without resources, our various projects : « The Mountain Basket », « the basket of the Ear of God », « the basket of the Marist Blues », offer them monthly or weekly food supplies, mattresses, blankets, water bottles, kitchen utensils, clothing...

In addition, a hundred or so families come to us every day at noon to find a hot meal.

To the children (of displaced or impoverished families) of preschool or school age but not going to school, we offer a haven of peace where education, instruction and hygiene are offered them by our volunteers of «Learn to Grow » and « I want to learn ».

To the older adolescents, « Skill School » offers the possibility of meeting young people and carrying out common projects.

To the young Mothers, « Tawassol » offers an apprenticeship in English, computers, and manual crafts. They displayed and sold their products at Easter.

We the Marist Blues, are trying to respond to these challenges as best we can but our needs are immense. We have other projects in mind such as being able to provide lodging for the most impoverished of the displaced, but for that a lot of money is needed which we do not have. If we succeed in facing up materially and financially, it is thanks to all of you, our friends, who support us throughout the world. Thank you.


Nabil Antaki
For the Marist Blues

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