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Hope is being born again among the ruins

 

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Syria and Lebanon

13/07/2019: Spain

In the last edition of the magazine "Maristas Século XXI", of the Spanish Marist Conference, we find an article that  afirms that 'Hope is being born again among the ruins' in Syria and Lebanon, with some very important testimonies. We decided to translate the text and make it available to the whole Marist world. Below is the central text published in the magazine.

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A couple of months ago I had the chance to visit Syria and Lebanon in a joint team of people from the Marist NGO SED and the television station RTVE. We had three objectives: meet those in charge of the Blue Marists of Aleppo, Syria, and of the Fratelli Project in Rmeileh, Lebanon; to see first-hand the progress of humanitarian projects supported by SED; and film images and interviews for the RTVE program Pueblo de Dios (People of God). All in all, it was a tough experience but a personally enriching one.

Fernando Dominguez, Mediterranean delegate for the NGO SED

 

“My beloved Aleppo…”

These were the opening words of Marist Brother George Sabe in a message of hope when he was interviewed on TV in front of one of the thousands of buildings in Aleppo in a state of ruin as a result of the war in Syria. Aleppo is the second most important city in Syria after the capital, Damascus. Before the war, 4 million people lived there. Today, after almost eight years of bloodletting, there are only 2 million left. There are suburbs that have been completely bombed out and, two years after the Jihadists were driven out of Aleppo, according to Br George, “corpses are still being found amongst the rubble”. Just looking at these ruins enables one to understand why half the population has either died or fled, and how, in the latter case, they have ended up either displaced or refugees.

The Marist community in Aleppo mobilised itself right from the start of the war to look after the most vulnerable people, the displaced and refugees. They, brothers and lay volunteers, set up the Blue Marists, with their distinctive blue apparel. From 2012 their mission has focussed on distributing food (with special attention to milk powder for babies) and potable water, and caring for civilians wounded in the war. They have also organised selling for minors whose “right to education” has been snatched from them.

From December 2012 to February 2019 SED sent the Blue Marists around 300,000€, coming from campaigns in Marist schools, parishes, individuals, municipalities, as well as all the Marist Provinces of Europe, all in order to make a modest contribution to these initiatives in humanitarian assistance.

 

Human and social rebuilding in Syria

With the driving out of the Jihadists from Aleppo in December 2016, the Blue Marists began to refocus their work. Firstly, they changed the base of their operations when necessary: they not only maintained their involvement with displaced people in Aleppo itself, but began to collaborate in the Refugee Camp at Sahba (some 40 km from Aleppo). Secondly, they centred their efforts on human and social rebuilding in Aleppo, in parallel to the reconstruction of buildings that the government was taking up little by little. Human rebuilding includes education for peace, living together and reconciliation, as well as counselling for minors. Social rebuilding involves training and support in entrepreneurship to foster the growth of small businesses that, in their turn, can generate jobs that will keep young people in the city and avoid their having to leave the country. SED, to the best of its possibilities, is collaborating with the Blue Marists in this process of human and social rebuilding of Syria.

 

“We are going to look after the kids that nobody else is working with …”

The war in Syria has left more than 500,000 dead and more than 12 million displaced, many of whom have ended up as refugees in neighbouring countries. Lebanon was the second destination of our trip, where we wanted to know the other half of the story: what has happened to the people who have seen themselves forced to abandon Syria because of the war. With a population of almost 4 million people, Lebanon has welcomed a million and a half Syrian refugees (450,000 of them minors). In 2015 the congregations of the Marist Brothers and the De la Salle Brothers set up the Fratelli Project to care for the neglected children in Lebanon. In a television interview, Brother Miquel Cubeles recalled the mission that led him to this country, “We are going to look after the kids that nobody else is working with”. This statement is a true reflection of the reality. Every day a small fleet of two mini-buses and a 9-seater head off to the Zahrani Camp, to the vertical shelter alongside the Sidon hospital, to the “Pepsi” shelter in Sarepta and the Abra shelter to pick up Syrian kids for school at Rmeileh.

I had the chance previously to visit the old Marist College of Rmeileh (near Sidon), a set of buildings abandoned during the war in Lebanon and which was showing signs of ageing and lack of use. I have to admit that it was real joy to come back today, 10 years later, to see it full of children and young people who have seized the chance (or right) to be in the Fratelli Project. More than 800 children and young people, Syrian refugees, attend school each day at Rmeileh under 40 teachers in two sessions, morning and afternoon. They are provided with school transport, breakfast or afternoon tea, classes in basic subjects, language lessons, computer lessons and tutoring. SED has collaborated throughout the 3 years of this small miracle of Fratelli, sending 50,000 € and two international volunteers, conscious all the while that, as Brother Miquel says, “250 more schools like Rmeileh are needed to take care of the 250,000 Syrian minors in Lebanon who are not attending school.”

 

“Hope can be born in the ruins …”

Traipsing through the ruins of Aleppo or witnessing the ruined lives of those who are living rough in camps and shelters around Sidon, one can easily lose heart in contemplating the wicked deeds of humankind. Yet, the courage and zest for life of the refugee population, and the dedication of the Blue Marists and the Brothers of the Fratelli Project, make the words of Brother George Sabe ring true, “Hope can be born in the ruins”.

 

 

Testimonials

 

Dalia Said, head of the support project for displaced people in the Al Shahba camp

The 25 volunteers in this project have heard the cry of these people. Our presence in the Al Shahba camp in the region of Tell Rifaat, some 27 km from Aleppo, and the help we offer have taught us the meaning of the word “displaced”. We feel their grief, we fell the human crisis that they are living through. The relationship that we have formed with one of them carries a responsibility since we feel called to bring them hope and give them back their dignity.

The Blue Marists are the voice of the voiceless.  They are the hand reaching for an outstretched hand. Yours is the love that makes people feel safe, that gets close to anyone in need.  Your humanitarian mission is grounded in your faith since it truly is based on love.

 

Joseph Tobji. Archbishop

The war raging in Syria has been hard on its people and unjust. Its consequences have been terrible for the country and its people. Many Christians have emigrated for a variety of reasons: war, the economic situation, and many other factors. Young people have almost completely disappeared and this represents an enormous loss for the Church and the country.

We pray to God to convert the hearts of those with decision-making powers and those who are enriching themselves through the war. Nothing more. Enough!

This is our shout, our shout to the whole world: No more war! From the heart of Aleppo and the heart of the Maronite cathedral which is the symbol of the Christian presence in Aleppo, we ask all who come to see us to work for peace and support all the initiatives for peace to reign in our country and the whole world.

 

Navil Antaki, doctor

When the war began, we changed our name to be “Blue Marists”. Our slogan is “To stand in solidarity with those most in need to alleviate human suffering and sow hope”.

As the Blue Marists, we have initiated support projects for people who have been displaced: health services, the distribution of milk powder for the children, services to displaced families in a camp outside the city of Aleppo. What guides us is wanting to sow hope in the hearts of the people, to keep on living. This is our mission: to help people live in peace, in safety and love. War can destroy the Syrian people and hope can be lost. We want to sow peace, provide opportunities for the people.

 

Director of the Al Shahba camp

This camp has been in existence since July 2016 when it was home to more than 260 families. It was bombed and the number of families fell to 160. One year passed. The tents were getting old and basic services were no longer available.  There was a shortage of food as well.

Gradually, from August 2018 things started to improve. The tents were replaced and the camp ground re-organised. New families arrived. With the help of the local authorities we were able to provide essential services such as food, electricity (7 hours a day) and water, supplied by UNICEF. Now we have what we need thanks to the bosses of the local camps: they provide what they can get hold of for the families in the camp.

The Blue Marists distribute blankets, warm clothing and fuel for the stoves. Also, they provide health care a few times a month and other services like video programs, a library for the kids, setting up larger tents for gatherings, awareness programs for women and children on hygiene, health, illnesses and education.


Maristas Século XXI - Número 22 | Junio 2019

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