2024-02-06 SYRIA

Sadness and tragedy: Letter from Aleppo No 48

Dear Friends,

the Blue Marists are mourning our oldest member, Marguerite També, who passed away suddenly on Wednesday, January 31.

At 92-year-old, Margot was very alert, used to come every day to our premises at the Brothers’ convent, directed the “Women’s Development” project, stored and distributed the used clothes that we received, listened to our volunteers and told them about her life and shared with them her experience. Margot has accompanied us since the beginning in 1986, on the paths of solidarity with those who are the most in need. Her presence will be greatly missed by us and by thousands of people in Aleppo.

I hesitated for a long time to write this letter. I found it inappropriate to talk to you about our situation in Aleppo while a tragedy is taking place not far from us; one of the worst tragedies in history.

Tens of thousands of bombs dropped on a small area with the highest population density in the world; tens of thousands of civilian victims (27,000 dead so far), the majority of whom are children and women; there is no family that has not lost one or more members; 1,900,000 displaced people out of a population of 2,200,000, most of whom were already displaced; the majority of hospitals and medical facilities are out of service; medicines, water, electricity and food are provided drop by drop; Palestinians in Gaza are suffering like no one else before.

And it continues; despite the condemnation of world governments; despite the incessant requests from the Secretary General of the United Nations, UNICEF, WHO, Doctors Without Borders, Human Right Watch who demand an end of the acts of war and to allow humanitarian aid to enter and be delivered.

The only positive thing in this tragedy is that it has brought the Palestinian issue to the forefront and that all governments, especially the great powers, are once again talking about the 2-state solution; while being convinced of this only possible solution, they have done nothing for 20 years to implement it, letting the excessive colonization of the occupied Palestinian territories continue and preventing the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

Back home, in Aleppo, everyone is in solidarity with the Palestinians, and to say the least, appalled by the atrocities committed against them. The Alepines’ conversations, their WhatsApp messages, their Facebook posts only deal with this tragedy.

Well, not exclusively; the economic situation and the daily life in Syria and particularly in Aleppo are also on everyone’s lips since they are going from bad to worse.

Prices increase daily in parallel with the fall in the value of the national currency; the cost of living, already unbearable, continues to rise to unprecedented heights, which means that 90% of families live below the poverty line and cannot make ends meet. The State, not having sufficient financial resources, no longer subsidizes, as before, essential products such as bread, gasoline, fuel oil, which contributes to the worsening of inflation.

It is important to point out that before 2011, the country was prosperous and poverty was very low.

The shortage is getting worse; many products are rationed; electricity is only supplied 2 hours per day. People are suffering; just to mention the cold of winter with temperatures of 4-5 degrees Celsius without any means of heating!!

During the war years, life in Aleppo was dangerous. For 6 years, it has become more and more difficult, even intolerable. Migration is growing, especially recently, with a new Canadian opportunity. Some, among the best executives of the Blue Marists, have already left and others are waiting for their visa to leave.

What can we say to those who are desperate and at the end of their rope, when they come to ask our opinion on a possible departure? Or to those who, have obtained their visa, come to say goodbye to us? Except to wish them good luck.

Blue Marist: an essential contribution

Faced with all the sufferings that the people of Aleppo are enduring, we, the Blue Marists, believe that our contribution to alleviate them is even more essential than ever.

I will cite a few examples:

Our “Drop of Milk” program distributes the monthly milk requirement to 2,100 children. The price of the monthly ration of milk for infant (720,000 Syrian Pound (SYP)) is more expensive than the father’s monthly salary (average salary 400,000 SYP).

We recently received a large donation in-kind from a French association: diapers for babies. The monthly price of diapers needed for a baby (200,000 SYP manufactured locally), which amounts to half of the dad’s salary!!! Our “Diapers for Babies” project helps 600 families every month.

Our “LED” project, which consists of installing a battery, an inverter and LED lamps in more than 200 elderly people or large families’ houses, has enabled them to no longer live in darkness after sunset; the beneficiaries cannot afford to subscribe to a modest monthly ampere from a private generator (400,000 SYP per month) to have a little electricity to light a few electric bulbs.

The “Food Baskets” that we distribute to 1,100 families monthly make them happy. The price (400,000 SYP) of each basket reduces the costs of each family to survive; 56% of Syrian families are considered food insecure by UN agencies.

Finally, to end with this series of examples, our “Study Support” program contributes to the tuition fees, school transportation and support courses for more than a hundred pupils and students.

All our other projects are continuing as normal.

Our educational programs: “I Want to Learn” for the instruction and education of 120 children aged 3 to 6, “Seeds” for the psycho-social support of 450 children and adolescents, “Cut and Sew” for the teaching of sewing to 20 participants in 3-month sessions.

Our relief programs: “Rent” to help 120 displaced families find housing, “Medical Aid” to care for around 150 sick people per month, “Sharing Bread” to offer a daily hot meal to 260 elderly people who no longer have anyone to care for in Aleppo.

Our development programs: The “MIT” our adult training center with its 12-hour sessions semimonthly, the “Micro-projects” program which teaches how to create your own project and finances around fifty projects each year, the “Professional Training” currently with 2 modules of 20 apprentices each who learn a profession over 2 years, The “Women’s Development” project for 3 months sessions, and finally, the last but not the least, “Heartmade” which, with its 16 seamstresses, creates unique pieces for ladies from leftover fabrics.

Formation for member of the Blue Marists

This year, more than in previous years, we are doing our utmost to train the members of the Blue Marists, especially the project directors.

For the new volunteers, we implemented a cycle of three training sessions: The Marists Brothers – The Blue Marists – Solidarity; for former members, we offer hands on training by sharing the activities of other projects.

For project directors: we provide on one hand, regular meetings to reflect together on the impact of projects on volunteers and beneficiaries, on the conformity of our values ​​with our actions, on the current state of the Blue Marists and on their future; and on the other hand, training sessions, local or with the Marists of Lebanon or Spain; the last 3 full day training session has just ended with the participation of all project managers under the direction of 2 Lebanese trainers from the Waznat Association.

We do our best within the maximum limits of our human and material capacities to help, relieve, educate, train, develop and sow a little hope in an environment of suffering which leads to pessimism and despair.

Finally, we ask you, dear friends, to pray for:

Us, the Blue Marists, so that God helps us to continue our mission;
For the Syrians who are suffering and who see no light on the horizon or at the end of the tunnel;
For the people of Gaza to stop the carnage;
For all the Palestinians, so that their rights are finally recognized, the occupation ends and they can live in their own state.
For the entire region of the Near and Middle East which, like a powder keg, risks exploding at any moment.

Aleppo February 5, 2024
Dr Nabil Antaki, for the Blue Marists


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