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Who is my neighbour?



Situation in Aleppo – 30 October

03/11/2016: Syria

The offensive of the armed rebels is on its third day. On the one hand, they advance westward, conquering the Dahiyet Al Assad and, on the other hand, the bombardment with mortar fire falls on all the districts of Aleppo: in the west where the attackers enter and in the east where the besieged are trapped.
Many of the residents of Aleppo are in a state of panic, especially those living in Hamadaniye and Halab Al Jadida who have already left their homes. Since Friday, October 28, there have been many deaths and wounded of both Syrian civilians and military. Hospitals are said to be full of injuries.
The municipal authorities have decreed the closure of schools for a week.
Who is my neighbour?”
Today, October 30, we are living our monthly “pause” with the team of the Blue Marists. Leyla and I (Natil Antaki), have organized this day with the theme “who is my neighbor?”
We begin reading the parable of the Good Samaritan to highlight what “neighbor” means according to the Christian view. The 10 people of the group: the two brothers both called George, Margo, Louma, Mirna, Hadi, Kamel, Aline, Leyla and I, we begin by visiting the three families who come to us and benefit from our programmes.
The mother and two adults with mental disability make up the family S, as well as the father, mentally ill, who is being looked after by the sisters of Mother Teresa.
In normal time, the narrow streets of Midane are ugly, but now, due to the war they are infected: dirty streets, electrical wires hanging everywhere, ruinous buildings, a foul smell.
We went up five stories to reach the house of the S. A small apartment: a room for three people and a room of 8m2. The mother is very old and she has to do all the work herself, including raising the water to the fifth floor. Z, her son, mentally ill and with very bad vision, speaks in a “foreign” language, a language made up by words he invented. His brother, with mental retardation like him, but with mobility, was not at home.
We then went to Achrafiye, a poor neighborhood that was bombed by Bani Zeid rebel-terrorists for four years and was considered to be the Kurdish neighborhood before the war. A great crowd of people in the streets, houses half destroyed by bombs, but inhabited.
We headed to the house of the S. The father has a vision problem with restricted visual field despite undergoing two surgical operations and cannot work. The mother has to do everything and take care of five children. The oldest is 12 years old. They live in an infected place, rather, in a slum neighborhood without water or taps.
Fortunately, the Red Crescent has installed two large water tanks at the roundabout. They have to travel there every day to have water. When we arrived, only the children were home because the parents had attended the funeral of a cousin, who had died the day before during the fighting.
Our third visit took us to the Chihane roundabout where the H. R. family lives. A woman and her nine children, the youngest has only 16 months of age and did not meet his father because he abandoned the family over a year ago to live alone or to move with another wife to Turkey. Before the war, this family lived in Boustan Al Bacha. In July of 2012, when the rebels invated the East area of Aleppo, she fled and came to settle in one of the Sheik Maksoud schools where we met her.
When the rebels invaded the neighborhood in March 2013, he fled for the second time to settle in "1070", an unfinished real estate project erected with remains of buildings without walls or sanitary.
He managed to turn a corner into a fake apartment. Meanwhile, the mother was able to marry off two of her very young daughters, 15 and 16 years old. The boys, including the oldest aged 12, sorted through the garbage to collect plastic and cardboard that they sold for recycling and to earn a few pounds and maintain the family.
The work of Hammoud, aged 10, our protégé, was to transport the water cans from the central tank of “1070” to the “house”. He accompanied us every day to receive the warm food that we serve at noon to more than 800 people.
Whether it was good or bad weather, with rain or under the sun, he would walk for over an hour to come to our house and the same on the way back to return with food containers. He is blonde with blue eyes, but he is frequently so dirty that his hair looks brown. When he bathed in our house, he would get back his natural colour.
A month ago, “1070” was invaded by the rebels and, for the third time, the H.R. family had to leave to find refuge with one of the married daughters. Later they found refuge on the fifth floor of a half destroyed building in the roundabout of Chihane. When we went to visit them at their house, we were surprised to see that part of the walls were covered with unfixed wooden planks that could fall into the void by simply pushing them by hand.
These are some examples of the suffering and misery of a few thousand families that we deal with and that we help to survive.
How to turn a person who is different from us into our neighbor?
When we return from the visits, we exchanged our impressions, discussed about who is really our neighbor, how to turn a person who is different from us into our neighbor if we are not approaching them to become a neighbor, regardless of close kinship, belonging to the same clan, to the same religion or social environment.
We speak a lot of returning dignity, of relationship of equal-to-equal, of a look of love that does not judge, but that transforms the “different” into an “equal.” All these values are basic in our solidarity work.
During our visit to Achrafiye, we met many families from Halab Al Jadida fleeing their neighborhoods, carrying bales and wandering the streets in search of shelter, of an appartment to rent. Achrafiyeh is saturated, they are inhabiting even the destroyed buildings, the basements, the terraces, the stairs without handrails. Tonight, A-H D rang for help because he had finally found shelter for 30,000LS a month. We told him to rent it and that we were leaving to take the requested amount for a six-month rental.
A quarter of an hour later, Leyla and Brother Georges arrived at the house, but the apartment had already been occupied. They continue to bring wounded civilians to the hospital in the shelling of mortars that fall in the civil districts of the western part of Aleppo, launched by the “good moderate rebels.”
Today it was the turn of the entire Ghazal family: the father died on the spot, his daughters were seriously injured, the youngest, aged 20, died after having been operated urgently and the oldest is still in intensive care with severe prognosis.
His brother had died a month ago when he was hit by a sniper.

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