2018-03-07 SYRIA

Blue Marists

You were waiting for our letter. In addition to the news of the different projects of the Blue Marists, you wanted to be informed of the situation of the city of Aleppo, the one of Afrin and especially of what is happening in Damascus and in the rest of the country.

The situation in Aleppo is approaching normality

Aleppo was liberated in December 2016 and since the bombing has stopped, the blocked roads have been opened, the water supplied to all houses almost regularly, the electricity continues to be rationed. Some internally displaced people are trying to return to their homes in the eastern neighborhoods of the city. The small business owners are trying to open their stores. The rubbles were removed from several neighborhoods.

We are now getting aware of the desolation of the population who lived under the authority of the armed elements such as “AL-Nosra” or “Daech (Islamic state)”. The schools and the universities are operating normally. The situation in Aleppo is approaching normality except for the catastrophic economy and the permanent return of the externally displaced people. Unfortunately, for thousands of immigrant families, the return is not the first item on their to do list. As you read this letter, other families continue to leave. Should we wait until the war ends in all of Syria? What is the future holding for us?


Several hotbeds of war persist in the country

I would like, first of all, to bring you up to date about the situation in Afrin, a northwestern city of Syria at the border with Turkey where the majority of the inhabitants are Kurdish. Several months ago, the Turkish president decided to wage a war against the Kurds. His army invaded the Syrian territory, performing very deadly air strikes, and a ground invasion, it surrounds Afrin and occupies a hundred of villages around it. We cannot forget that this territory is a part of the province of Aleppo and that the inhabitants of this region, certainly of Kurdish ethnicity, are Syrian citizens.


In Damascus

In Damascus, the situation is very serious. For many years, the armed elements of the “Al-Nosra” and other militias occupy the countryside of Damascus, the Ghouta. Those jihadists have never stopped bombing the neighborhoods of Damascus, killing civilians and causing destructions.

After the liberation of Homs, Aleppo, Deir el Zor, the Syrian army has decided to liberate this enclave. This war of liberation has certainly caused deaths, injuries and suffering among the civilian population who was hijacked by the jihadists and we deeply deplore it. But we should not forget that the air strikes of the American army that helped the liberation of Mosul and Raqqa caused much more civilian casualties. And as usual, every time the circle tightens on the armed elements, the western medias begin to talk about humanitarian crises and chemical attacks to prepare the world opinion for a possible military intervention against the Syrian government. They offer a partial picture of what is happening. On the social networks, there are plenty of images made or copied from other wars, images showing only children and civilians and never armed elements, as targets of the offensives. With you, I wonder why we do not talk about the massacres caused by the bombing of civilian neighborhoods in Damascus like "Bab Touma" or "Kassa'a"? Why the Western medias and their governments do not recount the daily tragedy of the people of Damascus?


Our optimism has turned into a growing pessimism

Our cautious optimism from a few months ago, about the end of the war and the reestablishment of real peace has turned into a growing pessimism. The situation in Syria has become an intractable impasse. With the Turkish army to the north-west, the American army, which supports the Kurdish militias, in the far north-east, the Israeli raids of the south and the situation in Damascus and Ghouta, there is nothing to be optimistic about.

Fortunately, there are some serious and honest people among the journalists, those who risk their lives and come to observe the reality on the ground. One of them, Ivan from Dario de Navarra, has spent more than a week between Damascus and Aleppo. He experienced what the war is, the fear, the anguish of a population and witnessed the unimaginable destruction.


The will to live of the Syrian people

If I linger at the beginning of this letter on the situation of the war, it is not at all to show a side of death and fear, on the contrary! I want to talk about the will to live of the Syrian people. We want to live! Live with dignity! Live in peace! Live free from any constraints! Live away from suffering!

Today, we, the Blue Marists, have welcomed a 5 years old boy, M, who has his face, hands, feet completely burned.

His disfigured face haunts me. I don’t have any words. I only have the strength to denounce a war that last and goes for ever. That’s enough! Basta say our Spanish friends, Kafa, we say in our Arabic language.

Luckily, there are rays that come to warm our lives and shed light on our rather dark lives. One of them is Soumaya Hallak. Swiss from an Alepin origin, Soprano, granddaughter of a famous Alepin poet, she came to spend 8 days with us and for us. Accompanied by Marie-Laure, a film director and by Sawsan and Rand, 2 young ladies from Damascus who are students at the conservatory, Soumaya hosted every morning and afternoon, singing, dancing and war trauma therapy workshops for all of our groups: the children of “I learn to grow” and “I want to learn”, the teenagers of “Skill school”, the women form” woman’s development project” and all the instructors.

Soumaya brought us joy and a little bit of happiness. She promised to come back in April and/or in the summer.


Projects of the Blue Marists

The project “Education and development of the woman” is a source of joy and pride for us. Thirty women over 30 years old and as many younger women participate twice a week in interactive workshops on topics that concern them such as keeping a family budget, repurposing food, early marriage, hygiene and gynecological diseases etc.… The participants come from different backgrounds. They established among each other very fraternal relationships. They are all so happy that no one misses a workshop. It is a 2 months session. It starts over with new participants.

With the “M.I.T” and the “Job project”, we are participating in the reconstruction of the man, the families and the country.

In addition to the 3 days’ workshops organized since more than 4 years, we started last week the 5th session on the theme “how to create your own small project”. Twenty adults will spend 42 hours learning and applying to their own project the basics elements of the cost evaluation, the profitability, marketing…to present to the jury their well-studied project. We, the Blue Marists, will fund the best projects in term of feasibility, profitability, sustainability and job creation. In doing so, we help the families to live in dignity, independent from the aids they received during the years of war, and we create jobs that the country needs so much given the current the stagnant economic situation.

One of our greatest satisfaction is the closure of our program “War wounded civilians”. On the 5th anniversary of the beginning of this project, we have, at the end of November 2017, proclaimed its closure, the reason for its existence having disappeared, Aleppo being spared, thanks God, from the acts of war since 14 months; and this, during a family dinner that brought together the 3 partners of the project: the doctors of St. Louis hospital, the nuns of the hospital and the members of the team of the Blue Marists.
Dr. Nabil Antaki presented a power point presentation that summarized the project’s history, its spirit, its achievements and its funding. Then all the participants received a certificate of appreciation and a silver commemorative medal (donated by a benefactor) with on one side the logo of the project, and on the other the Blue Marist logo.

Five years of free giving to care for hundreds of very seriously injured people and save the lives of dozens, unlimited generosity in free medical and surgical procedures from doctors, exemplary nursing care and endless love from the nuns and nursing staff, and unlimited funding and a flawless administration from the Blue Marists.

Yesterday, was a celebration at the Blue Marists. We had the 4th graduation ceremony, this time for 10 ladies, who had participated for 4 months in the session of our project “cut and sew”. They have acquired enough skills to enter the work market, and also for their family needs.

Our clothes recycling project “heart made” makes wonders. First of all, it provides work to eleven people. And the products that come out of the workshop are really beautiful and are sold in a store in the downtown, which will allow the project to self-finance.


Our relief programs continue as usual

“The Blue Marists for the displaced” distributes each month food and hygiene baskets and cash (gift from Caritas-Poland) to more than 1000 displaced or poor families. The displaced families are also supported to pay the rent for their apartment. For Christmas, all the members of our families (over 4000), received new clothes and shoes. For Easter, they will receive meat and a fruit basket. vThe “Medical program” helps in the financing of 150 medical procedures each month: surgeries, hospitalization, prescriptions, lab work and X-rays that the impoverished patients by the war cannot afford.

“Drop of milk” contributes to the physical and mental growth of approximately 3000 kids under the age of 11 by providing milk each month.


The educational projects

The educational projects are also one of the rays of our firmament. Nothing gets near the joy of the children of “I learn to grow” and “I want to learn” except the joy of their 24 instructors. The young ones are currently preparing a Mother’s Day party, which we celebrate on March 21st. “Skill school” offers very interesting projects for the teenagers, including several solidarity projects for lent.

Thanks to their assiduity and to the effort of the educators, and as a part of the project “Eradication of illiteracy”, many illiterate adults are now able to read a text. Other adults, men and women, are already at the fourth level of learning English as part of the “Hope” project. They are proud to be able to help their children in their studies and to hold a conversation.

If we are able to realize all these projects, it is because of the support and generosity of our friends and benefactors all over the world. I would like to thank every one of them.


Les Lettres d’Alep

Before ending this letter, I would like to announce to you a big news. At the request of many of our friends, we will, very soon, publish a book co-written by Nabil Antaki and myself. Our book “Les Lettres d’Alep”, published by Harmattan, is a compilation of all the letters we wrote during the years of war enriched by extracts from interviews and texts. It is currently being printed and will be released in bookshops soon. In “The Letters of Aleppo”, we painted a picture of the situation and relate the suffering of the displaced, the misery of the poor, the distress of the inhabitants and the atrocity of the war; and we also describe our response to these tragedies through compassion, accompaniment, solidarity, and self-giving through the “Blue Marists”.


A peace of justice and forgiveness

We are approaching Easter, the time to celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ.

We are all invited to pray the lord for the life he gives us “His PEACE”; a peace of justice and forgiveness; a peace that accepts the other as he is; a peace that extends a hand; a peace that refuses violence; a peace that is translated by gestures of mercy; a peace that touches the heart of men’s stone heart to turn it into a heart of flesh; a peace that announces a civilization of love; a peace that realizes the will of god on our earth.

We wish you to live this peace, let it radiate through you, into our world.

Aleppo March 4th, 2018
F. Georges Sabe, for the Blue Marists


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