2022-08-12 SYRIA

Letter from Aleppo No 44: All that for this!

August 10, 2022

The world has never seen such an outpouring of solidarity like the one shown toward the Ukrainian people. Countries, especially Western ones, international associations, UN agencies, NGOs and individuals have acted quickly and with extreme generosity to relieve the suffering of refugees, displaced persons and the wounded. They were encouraged by media correspondents who, from the first days of the conflict, reported that they were meeting in Ukraine “people like us, who dress like us, who live in towns that look like ours…”. As if alleviating suffering depends on such criteria! Without getting into a political controversy, we can still say that this war could have been avoided.

As the war in Afghanistan could have been avoided which ended with a pathetic withdrawal of American troops after causing hundreds of thousands of deaths and costing trillions of dollars. “All that for this,” said a columnist!!!

As could have been avoided the one triggered in Syria more than 11 years ago, and which has not ended. The war and sanctions have ruined the country and impoverished the population. This was, without a doubt, the true purpose of the war. It caused the death of 500,000 people and the suffering of hundreds of thousands of injured and amputees. It has pushed 5 million to take refuge in neighboring countries, 1 million to migrate to the West and 8 million to leave their homes.

Three wars that we could and should have avoided.

Behind the false alibis and the fallacious pretexts to start these wars, there were unacceptable geopolitical reasons, condemnable Machiavellianism and shameful cynicism.

Neither war nor peace

There has been almost no fighting in Syria for several years, but this state of “neither war nor peace” is unsustainable. The war caused destruction, but the absence of peace prevents reconstruction and reconciliation; And as someone said: “Frozen conflicts, which are often insoluble conflicts, inexorably end up heating up”.

The economic situation in Syria is catastrophic. 82% of the population lives below the poverty level; 60% are food insecure; the unemployment rate is impressive; inflation is skyrocketing; most families cannot make ends meet; the Syrian currency has lost 90% of its value; prices are increasing every day. Scarcity aggravates poverty: shortage, and therefore, rationing of bread, gasoline, electricity and many basic necessities.

The Blue Marists’ mission is critical

Faced with this aggravation of the sufferings of our fellow citizens, our mission, as Blue Marists, is even more critical. We are supported by many international associations and by many friends. We are grateful to them. Thanks to their moral and financial support, we are able to maintain all our aid and relief projects and all our educational and development programs.

There are still many displaced families in Aleppo itself. We continue to distribute 832 monthly food baskets to the most vulnerable families and to pay the rent for 200 families who still cannot return home.

One hundred and fifty people take advantage of our medical program each month to pay for expensive surgeries, prescriptions for chronic conditions or very expensive CT scans.

Our “Drop of Milk” project continues the monthly distribution of the milk necessary for the growth of 3,000 children and infants. Our “Sharing Bread” project offers a daily hot meal to 230 seniors over 80-year-old who live alone and have no one left to support them.

Migration

We want young people to stay in Syria and not to migrate. The country and the society need them. We are saddened to know that thousands of Syrian doctors have migrated to Germany and France. Yesterday, I received a message from a friend and fellow gastroenterologist and endoscopist who informed me that he emigrated to France a few months ago. And yet, he had a fine reputation, was very competent and had a busy practice. To my astonishment and my questions, he replied that he thought about the future of his children. Yes, because of the war, Syria has lost its elite, all those academics, engineers, computer scientists and doctors, who have studied and been trained for free in Syrian universities, who could have participated in the reconstruction of the country but who moved to the Gulf countries or to Europe; these countries which profit for free from this skilled labor trained in Syria but which, hypocritically, complain about this immigration which is nevertheless essential to their economy or their well-being.

This summer, many Syrians who had left the country to settle elsewhere returned to spend their “holidays” in Syria. They came to inspect their homes which they left in a hurry, to put their affairs in order and to complete administrative formalities. Alas, they left; Unfortunately, few are those who return permanently.

For our young people to stay, they must have a job. This is why three of our programs are intended for this purpose. Our Marist Institute for Training “MIT” trains adults and allows them to acquire skills in different fields.

The Micro-Projects program funds micro-projects provided that they are feasible and sustainable. In 6 years, we have financed more than 200 projects. Unfortunately, despite the training offered to the candidates and the accompaniment and follow-up by Marist Blue mentors, the success of these micro-projects is not evident. The economic crisis, the inflation and the high cost of rents and products are causing the failure of certain projects which, at the start, were promising. On the other hand, there were many great achievements and successes; I think of T.J. who opened a car mechanic shop, A.B. who makes small ladders and stepladders, S.A. and A.C. who now have a barbershop. Pope Francis, in his prayer intention in August, while saluting the courage, creativity and efforts of small entrepreneurs, asked to pray for them so that they “can find the necessary means to continue their activity, at the service of the communities where they live”.

Other Blue Marists’ programs

As for the Vocational Training program, it allows us to engage our young people as apprentices with professionals to learn a trade. Twenty people have already completed their training and 20 others are in the process of learning. The young R.E. learned in one year (while his apprenticeship was to last 18 months) the repair and maintenance of cellphones; his boss told us that he had nothing more to teach him and that he can now be his own boss and fly on his own.

Heartmade continues and develops its activity and multiplies the products to achieve self-financing. Sixteen women find a job there by creating women’s clothes from leftover fabrics.

Since the beginning of our mission, we create a project when we feel there is a need; and we close projects when their « raison d’être » no longer exists. This is how we have just stopped the “I Learn to Grow” project. On the other hand, “I Want to Learn” continues its mission of education and instruction of 120 children from 3 to 6 years old. At the end of the school year, summer camps took over for entertainment activities to sow a little joy in the hearts of these children from displaced families. Our “Seeds” psycho-social support program continues to work wonders with the 450 children in its care. As for the “Women Development, “Cut and Sew” and “Hope” projects, they offered 3-month sessions one after the other to meet all needs and all requests.

Sowing Hope

After 11 years of suffering, drama, migration and deprivation, we find it difficult to live and convey our Marist motto: “Sowing Hope”. Yet, it is so necessary; the people around us need it. We still do not see the light at the end of the tunnel. The great powers have other priorities and the Syrian issue is no longer a priority for them. Syria has become “a forgotten country”. As for the regional powers, they are using the Syrian conflict to advance their pawns in the region. Fortunately, some Arab countries and others have gone beyond the Manichaean reasoning that there are good on one side and bad on the other, and have reestablished their relations with Syria. Provided that Western countries do the same so that a dialogue begins as the prelude to the settlement of the conflict and to peace.


Aleppo, August 10, 2022

Dr Nabil Antaki, for the Blue Marists

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