2023-04-02 SYRIA

Marist solidarity gives hope to the people of Aleppo

Five minutes after the first earthquake shook Aleppo on February 6, a WhatsApp message arrived to this group of 155 Blue Marist volunteers. “If you are safe, come to the center, we need you.” 15 minutes after the earthquake, all the volunteers were at the Marist Blue Center, ready to immediately welcome more than 1,000 frightened, freezing, and desperate people. The earthquake shook Aleppo in the middle of winter, and many people fled to the streets barefoot, in the darkness of a city that only has two hours of electricity a day. The trauma for most people, after years of war, was terrible.

The volunteer network is the beating heart of the Marist organizational engine: a team of educators and social workers engaged in 14 projects that reach out to the poorest and most vulnerable areas of Aleppo.

On March 2, the “I want to learn” project, an educational program for 120 children between the ages of 3 and 5, was resumed. Buses leave the center at 9 a.m. to pick up children living in the most difficult areas of the city, such as Bustan Alkaser, Al Sahlin and KhaldiehThey arrive at the center, where they are welcomed by volunteers who, after a universal prayer (in the center, volunteers and children are Christians and Muslims), begin music, games, drawing activities, gymnastics and the distribution of drinks and hot meals. An oasis of happiness, and joy, for the children but also for the volunteers who breathe in the air that positive energy they need to overcome this difficult time. “You don’t know how important it is to finally have this energy around us again. It is an immense joy that gives you the strength to go on”, says Br. George Sabé. 

This program is now resuming, for the first time since February 6. But aid to the people of Aleppo has never stopped:  

The delivery of food packages to 832 families in Aleppo, the distribution of powdered milk to over 3,000 children, the home delivery of 250 hot meals for the elderly left alone, resilience programs together with Realmonte onlus to over 500 children and youths (the latter continued in the form of home delivery for about a quarter of the beneficiaries even immediately after the earthquake).

Now, more than ever, there is a great need for Blue Marists in Aleppo. 

After the war, the covid, the sanctions that have reduced a population to extreme poverty, and the cholera epidemic of November 2022, now we add this tremendous earthquake. 90% of Syrians live below the poverty line, in Aleppo, there are 2 hours of electricity per day, and some neighborhoods are without electricity all day. Gasoline is rationed (50 liters per year per family). The average salary of those who work is USD 30 per month, barely enough to buy food. There are still many families living on the street, in tents, waiting for their houses to be renovated or at least deemed fit for habitation. o many children who, instead of going to school, are forced to work. 

International cooperation, especially UNICEF, is active in Aleppo with some important programs, such as catching up on school years for children who missed a year or two after covid and cholera. But this is not enough. Today, if you ask 100 Syrians what their dream is, 99 will answer to leave the country. It is impossible to talk about reconstruction in a country under international sanctions.

“Sanctions have turned the Syrian people into beggars,” says Dr. Nabil Antaki, a doctor from Aleppo who has always collaborated with the Blue Marists.

The temporary lifting of Western sanctions, the opening of an international collaboration table to coordinate the emergency response, and the creation of all necessary humanitarian aid corridors are challenges to which the international community, even after the immense tragedy of this earthquake, has failed to respond. 

Hopefully, it will now be possible to discuss the possible review of the sanctions. Meanwhile, the big blue heart of the Blue Marists will continue to beat in Aleppo, giving hope and support to thousands of people.


Andrea Rossi – FMSI Director


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