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Marist Calendar - October

Letter from Aleppo No 33



The forgotten Syria

11/07/2018: Syria

Maristes Alep: Facebook | Twitter

The news from Syria has been side-lined. The transfer of the American embassy to Jerusalem, the tragedy of the immigrants, the elections in some European countries, the Trump-Kim-Jong-Un, and the FIFA world cup have been the only topics in newspapers and media headlines since our last letter.

Meanwhile, the situation in Syria continues to be very worrying and potentially explosive. The interventions or the presence of certain countries on the ground make the situation very complex, and the future uncertain, compromise the negotiations and increase the risk of a regional conflagration. The United States with two military bases and France (illegally established on the territory of a sovereign country) are present in the north-east to support the Kurdish forces that occupy a large part of the territory. On the other hand, Turkey invaded at the end of January, the northwest of Syria to chase out the Kurdish armed groups and is now occupying all the region of Afrin. Finally, Israel launches air raids on the Syrian territory with impunity and supports the jihadists in southern Syria. The Syrian government just launched an offensive to chase out the last rebel armed groups from southern Syria, from the region of Dara’a.

Following the Turkish invasion in the region of Afrin, 27,000 families consistent of 137,000 people fled their towns and villages. They didn’t take anything with them except the clothes they were wearing. They lost everything: their house, their tractor, their cattle, their car…They settled in 11 villages and many tent camps including, “Camp Shahba”, around the little town of Tel-Rifaat 25 km of Aleppo. We, the Blues Marists, could not remain indifferent to the suffering of those newly displaced people; we heard their call for help (wasn’t our group called “the Ear of God” before we became the Blue Marists?).

After a period of hesitation and reflection, fearing for the life of our volunteers, the Turkish forces being at 4-5 Km from Tel-Rifaat, we decided to act…to go meet them…to try to provide for their needs… to take care of their children who don’t go to school…to become supportive of these families. And this is how “Camp Shahba” project and adventure started.


New mission in the village of Kafar Nasseh

With the collaboration of the Syrian Red Crescent, we took care of 650 families of the village of Kafar Nasseh and especially Camp Shahba: a camp of 107 tents for 107 families, located in a desert plane.

Four hundred and fifty kids who look forward with a lot of joy to our Wednesday and Sunday visits, who are watching for us at the camp entrance and who gather around us in 2 minutes; and our volunteers who make them play with a ball, draw and colour, dance, who introduce them to hygiene and teach them the basics of writing and math.

One hundred and ten mothers or grandmothers have become the friends of our volunteer ladies and gather to listen, share and give them advices.

One hundred and seven families who are waiting for us to get food and hygiene packages, portable gas stoves for cooking, thermos to keep the drinking water, tablets to sterilize water, slippers, clothes…

Everything is done outdoor, under a blazing sun, with temperature reaching 38-40 Celsius degrees in the shade. We have just installed a big tent, which serves as a covered playground, to at least organize the meetings with the children and women in the shade.

We go there at least twice a week; a drive of an 1h 30m, multiple checkpoints to cross; the 15-20 volunteers are waited for each visit with the smile and the joy, a lot of gratitude and expectations. The displaced are desperate, want to go back home or to Aleppo but the two options are interdicted.

The situation in Aleppo

In Aleppo, the security situation was very good since the evacuation of the armed groups and the liberation of Aleppo from Al Nosra terrorists.

However, bombs fired by rebels in the west of Aleppo continue to fall daily on certain surrounding neighbourhoods. On June 27th, we lived the worst day in the past 18 months: many bombs fell on Aleppo, on residential neighbourhoods, causing many dead and wounded. Shrapnel even reached our premises. One of our volunteer was nearly killed.

The daily life is gradually improving with the restoration of water and electricity, although rationed, and the availability on the market of goods and products. To the contrary, the economic situation is at its lowest; the unemployment rate is very high, the cost of living is very expensive, the salaries are very low and will not allow a family to live with dignity and the Aleppineswho have the means to invest and had fled the country, did not come back. Most of the family in Aleppo still need help to live and survive.


The Blues Marists

We, the Blues Marists, have maintained the distribution of food and hygiene baskets to the families we take care of, but we think that after 6 years of help, these distributions will need to stop one day. We believe that the top priority is to find a job for every person being helped. By working, each person can take care of himself or herself; to be, finally, independent from the aid received for years; to live with dignity from his/her work and to stop thinking about leaving the country.

This is how we created our program “The Micro projects”. We already have organized 7 training sessions for 16 to 20 adults per session. Experts teach them in 48 hours “how to create your own project”. At the end of the sessions, the candidates present their projects to the jury who evaluate them, provide the necessary advice and choose the best projects in terms of feasibility, profitability and sustainability to be financed by us. Since a year and a half, we have already funded 50 projects and allowed more than 90 families to live off their jobs.

Our project “Heart Made” where women transform old-fashioned clothes into unique pieces that are very much appreciated, which gives work to 11 mothers.

Our other project “Marie” for the production of cotton baby clothes supports 24 families.


The Letters of Aleppo

We announced in our last newsletter the forthcoming publication of our “The Letters of Aleppo”. This is a collection of all our letters written since the beginning of the war by brother Georges and I, enriched with extracts from interviews, press articles and texts written by either one of us. Our book was finally published by the editing house “Harmattan”. You can buy it or order it in bookstores or online at the FNAC, Amazon or Harmattan websites. We encourage you to buy it, read it or offer it; we wish that our testimony will reach as many people as possible; the newspaper “La Croix” has just selected it among 4 books about the Middle East that one must read this summer (La Croix, supplement on Thursday, June 28th).

All our projects continue thanks to your solidarity and your donations.

The help in lodging the displaced families, the distribution of the food and hygiene baskets, the monthly distribution of milk to 3000 infants and kids under the age of 11…and especially our medical project which, with the project “Camp Shahba” and the “Micro projects” program, mentioned earlier, is one of the 3 priority projects of the Blue Marists. Yes, people need financial support with their medical care, surgeries and our duty is to help them.

As for our educational projects, few are on their summer break as “Learn to Grow” and “I want to Learn” for the children from 3 to 7 years old. The “MIT” (for adult education), “Skill school” for the accompaniment of the teenagers, “the eradication of illiteracy”, the teaching of sewing “Cut and Sew” and languages (project hope) continue their educational missions.

We have just completed a cycle of 4 months’ sessions for “the development of the woman”. 80 women over the age of 30 and 80 under the age of 30 benefited from it. After a break in July and August, we hope that the session will resume with other beneficiaries. Meanwhile, we are organizing training and support meetings for girls who are between 12 and 15 years old.

This is, in brief, our news. We are pursuing our mission that consists of “living the solidarity with the poorest to alleviate suffering, develop the human and sow hope”.

I hope that this “Letter from Aleppo No 33” will find you, dear friends, in good health and I wish you a good summer vacation.


Aleppo, July 1, 2018
Nabil Antaki - For the Blue Marists

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