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Let’s choose to build peace!



Letter from Aleppo No 30 (July 9th 2017)

13/07/2017: Syria

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On this Saturday, July 9th 2017, it is very hot in Aleppo. In the street that runs alongside our place, cars are passing as regularly as before.

That is the word “AS BEFORE”. I remember very well, during a 4 month stay in Bouake (Ivory Coast), the people always referred to the time of “the crisis”. Today the Alepins often use the word “before”. But, before what? Before the start of the war in Aleppo in 2012 or before the end of the combats in Aleppo, in December 2016? There is always a before, a comparison, a return back to read the reality of our life, the reality of the events that we go through, the reality of the city’s demography, the reality of the industry, the reality of the essential services such as water and electricity, the reality of the security.

Compare, evaluate and predict…These are the three terms that make up the fabric of the long discussions that we are having.

At the same time, there are now terms that come up often: the reconstruction, the rehabilitation of the houses and shops, the return of the displaced people to their former neighborhoods and so many other signs that indicate that we want to live.

These days are also days of important decisions at the city’s municipality regarding the improvement of the structures of the city and the return to normality: To open the streets that were closed or blocked, to install traffic signs, to remove the shacks that had grown like weeds on the sidewalks and the roadways during the war; the municipality has set up a special place where they can be installed. Taking advantage of the solar energy to illuminate the city’s roundabouts.

It seems like if we want to catch up the time lost by a war that destroyed the city and made it a martyr city.

Many parents were waiting until the end of the school year (in mid-May, in Syria), or the end of the finals for the middle school (Brevet), or High school (Baccalaureat) (In mid-June) or the end of the college finals (in mid-July), to return to their homes in the eastern part of the city. They prefer to return to their neighborhood, to their home, to what they have been forced to leave despite their wills. And there are those who have spent these years of war in Syria but not in Aleppo. Those who moved to Tartous, Latakia or to other cities. They came, they saw and many of them made the decision to come back before September, the beginning of the school year.

Can we talk about the return of the displaced?

Can we imagine that those who left years ago, will take the path to return? It is a wish. For that wish to be a reality, there is still a long way to go.

Aleppo, is also the story of achievements and success. I will share few of them with you:

Two of our young people passed the official middle school certificate (Brevet) with a perfect score. They were received by the first lady. Despite the war, despite the displacements, despite all the obstacles against their possible success, here is an example of young people determined to surpass themselves, to go forward, to succeed in their life and their studies.

Tuesday, July 11th, in the famous Maronite cathedral without a roof, demolished during the war, and where Christmas mass of 2016 was celebrated again, only few days after the liberation of Aleppo, in this same cathedral a concert of the Great Mass in C Minor of Mozart will take place. The orchestra is from Damascus and the Chorus is from Aleppo. Over 70 musicians will give back to the city of Aleppo its musical pulse.

As you can imagine, our city is well known for its traditional musical culture.

Several ladies, among those who participated in the advanced session of “Cut and Sew” began to dream of their future as seamstress in workshops or even opening their own workshop.

This summer is marked by the publication of “Le journal de Myriam” by the famous French publishing house “Fayard”. A book that describes the life of Myriam, daughter of one of our families of Jabal el Saydeh during the war in Aleppo. She describes in the book her school, the displacement of her family, her fears and her friendship with Joudy her classmate, her dream and her future. This book received the prize of the “Essai de l’Express”.

Another good news for this summer 2017, is the summer camps outside the city of Aleppo. For a lot of young people, it will be the first occasion to get to know other regions of Syria.

All this beautiful picture of the reality of the life in Aleppo has its reverse side: Another picture unfortunately more sad and, for us, more worrying, is the psychological and humanitarian situation of the people.

Currently, I spend a lot of time listening to the complaints of parents about the deterioration of their children’s situation, especially the teenagers among them. A big vacuum exists in the lives of these young people. A quest for a lost sense of purpose that is very difficultly to find again. A need to escape, to go elsewhere. A violence is amplified by the characteristics of their age. An inquiry about life: why live? Why fight for its future? Why to act, to invest, when everything seems destruction and despair.

A lot of young people lost their friends, killed during the war or who left the country for good. They feel that they are only a small minority and their contact with those who have emigrated, makes them dream of a paradise on earth.

Several industrials or small business owners are looking for workers to revive their projects and they are confronted with the lack of skilled manpower.

The high cost of living, the rising prices and the decline in the purchasing power mean that the Blue Marists continue to support the families through a regular monthly distribution of food and hygiene baskets.

It is true that many voices are calling for the distribution of the food baskets to stop to force people to normalize their lives. But we realize that the misery is greater and the basic needs are immense: A rent for those who don’t own homes, a water tank, clothes, shoes, a little bit of meat, water and tuition for school and college students, milk for the infants etc.…

Last January, Caritas Poland started a new program of 6 months of sponsorship between Polish families and Alepine families.

In June, many families were worried to know that the program was ending. Luckily, it didn’t. It is true that we should not reduce the families to crowd of beggars; but the consequences of the war are terrible and we keep on discovering every day dramatic situations.

Is the war over? Not at all. One must be realistic. If the city of Aleppo is not bombed, that does not mean that the war is over in Syria or in Aleppo.

There are still surrounding neighborhoods of the city that are daily bombarded by armed groups. There are still major local, regional and international threats.

As we did during the past years, we remain hopeful that diplomatic efforts and change in positions of certain world power will help bring peace to our beloved Syria.

In the midst of all that, all of our projects continue because we believe that even though the bombs have stopped, there are plenty of potential time bombs inside every man, woman and child, which are waiting to blow up the future.

The monitors of the projects “Learn to Grow” and “ I Want to Learn” are working to prepare our own curriculum. They are working hard at it. We hope that by the start of the school year 2017-2018, we will have a program adapted to the conditions our children.

Like last year, we launched the summer club. It is a free club, where parents and kids can enjoy a space where they can breathe, meet and play. This year, the young people of Skill School organized some activities for the two days of the Fitr Holiday; An initiative appreciated by all.

Moreover, the same young people of Skill School, have in their summer program, some initiatives of solidarity. We want them to go through these vital experiences to build a world that is more fair.

The various programs to fight illiteracy and language learning will soon complete their two months sessions. We must admit that both teachers and students/learners were courageous. It was more than 40 degrees Celsius on certain days, and despite that they did not miss a day!

We ended for this year the MIT training cycles. September looks already promising with a diverse and busy program. The leadership team has not stopped planning sessions adapted to the expectations of the young people and to the current needs of the city.

We believe that education remain the only road toward peace! It will be built on a base of an education that respects the different other, the other as he is, the other who will become my brother!

This summer, in collaboration with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and during the month of June, we provided water to several neighborhoods of the eastern part of the city. It is a very successful experience. The feedback of the 4 young people who worked in that project is very positive. We didn't stop helping the other families who ran out of water in the western neighborhoods. For two days only, we can start talking about a partial normalization of the municipal water distribution throughout the city.

The situation of the electrical power has greatly improved in the recent days. On average, it is distributed 4 hours a day. It is an achievement! Hopefully it will last.

During one of my speeches, during my visit to Paris, I said: “we cannot remain in our comfort zone when we have distress calls in front of us. If Syria is known worldwide for its war, it is above all a place where the human is touched deep inside. The man, the woman, the child, the adult, the elderly, each one is touched deep inside. In the world we live in, it is important not to forget that there is a human being to whom I am bound to, to whom our fate is bound, to whom our future is bound. Either we choose together to build a world of peace or we will all, all without exception, loose our human dignity.”

I wish you a great summer vacation.

Fr. Georges Sabé - For the Blue Marists

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