Aleppo, March 19th 2018
In the middle of last December I arrived at Aleppo, my new destination, a new mission. Taking advantage of the festive Christmas period I began visiting families both in the Vicariate (parish) where we live and the Al Midan area. They are two very different realities but both have in common the great suffering and anguish due to its past.
The first zone is more of a residential area to the west of Aleppo, beautiful three stories buildings with beautiful gardens, wide roads and green spaces. The parish is a building of no more than 10 years of age, located 100 meters from the university campus and therefore the streets are filled with young people. While some bombs fell large traces of the previous war are not that visible and obvious.
On the other hand, Midan is located to the east of the city, a working class area, with groups of humble building of up to 8 stories, with small apartments for large families, which are accessible via dark and narrow staircases…tight roads, full of debris and now, in rainy season, a lot of mud. These are the people that suddenly had to see their houses threaten by different terrorist groups because they had taken control of the area for nearly 4 years. 80% of the area is destroyed, with clear signs of the military engagements, mountains of debris where one can imagine where families lived before a large explosion…and the sections of this area that had the lucky of not being in the line of fire were destroyed by those that took control of them, including breaking divisionary walls to ensure that all rooms were not left unlooted.
Here is where we have our church, “Our Lady of the Annunciation”, which had the same fate as the houses of its believers.
Many of them were left without anything. A large number of people emigrated. Those that stayed were received by the families in safer zones of the city, others were received by the church, others were helped in order to search and rent a small apartment. But they lost the little they had, even their works, their businesses… the majority of these families were left with nothing.
Nowadays, apart from the sadness from what they have suffered, deep inside them there is great uncertainty over the end of these conflict and the desired peace (because every day the conflict can be heard not in the city now but still nearby). It’s very crude the necessity in which the majority of families are loving it a hard and sad reality. There is hunger, need and worst of all, the temptation to lose hope and the helplessness when facing the near and sad future.
The Church has helped and continues to do so (in its different rites) a lot of these people. It is small but it allows them to survive. There are institutions that help with medicines and operations, other with food. But sadly this is no longer news as the help does not arrive like it once did, they are scarce. In addition to this is the embargo which world countries have sanctioned to Syria. This complicates the arrival of foreign aid. Literally, people must beg to survive.
There continues to be great need.
Many families do not know how to resolve these problems. And there are the most vulnerable, the elderly who are alone, families are poorer, or the desperate situations with certain families (with a relative in prison; a kidnapped daughter who cannot returns and asks her parents for help for her children; in another family a son with addictions or in once case a person suffering with a disability…).
Our fear is that these personal problems if augmented can lead to great need and poverty.
In order to have an idea of the daily reality amongst these people, the cost of living and how they survive, I will state some cases though there are many more that I have come to know these recent days:
- A man work as a hairdresser in my parish earning 50 US dollars a month, from there he pays the rent of the business premises and with the remainder him and his family live…both his children are at University.
- Abu George, got a cleaning job in a Doctor’s clinic. He earns 26 US dollars monthly. He is married and has a daughter with disabilities.
- Another man sells gas per kilo and cigarette in a very simple store, very near home to have his wife nearby whom has had heart surgery. He earns 20 US dollars a month. At least the humble apartment belongs to them thanks to a donation.
- The rent of a two bedroom apartment, bath and kitchen (in a 5 storey, simple flat without an elevator) costs around 30-40 US dollars, in a working class area not ideal for young and teenage girls.
- A kilo of meat costs nearly 9 US dollars, a liter of petrol is at 0,55 US dollars (poor quality), 0,66 per liter for diesel. With a “family booklet” you can get bread free, but once must be willing to queue up in a 100 meter queue and put up with people constantly jumping the queue.
Before this war Syria did not have external debt, and like Iraq had an abundance of natural resources. Now there is little daily electricity and there is a cobweb of disorganized cables at street level from which families can have electricity access paying at an expensive hourly rate.
A family of 5 would need 400 US dollars to stay above the poverty line. In my parish they are miles away from achieving this, in fact they don’t even have enough to survive. It is an emergency situation for the families involved.
Without doubt our Mission is to bring the gospel to these people and families. They truly appreciate the moral and spiritual support, the visits to their homes, the blessings in the cemeteries of so many fallen family members as a result of this terrible war. The mass we celebrate in our loaned church it is a great consolation. They are enthusiastic and uplifted by the upcoming opening of Our Lady of the Annunciation Church. But facing such a reality we must commit ourselves by giving them aid and help which is within our reach:
- Our idea is addition from spiritual help, to begin with activities such as postwar therapy and depending on how much help we can get in helping families continue surviving and help them to a more prosperous future. We have begun with recreational activities, family meetings, sports, and meeting up with gathering at people’s homes.
- The priests alongside the Bishop who came to replace, had presented a project which was subsequently accepted a project regarding hairdressing classes, makeups and manicures. Don’t think it will be me giving these classes 😉 We are trying to specify what is needed to begin this. We also intend to start soon with music classes, English and informatics.
- Something worth specifying is help to university students. I believe that the best help is to promote parents to educate their children in hope of improving their work and future prospects. The subsequent generation can then aid in the family subsistence. This would mean that during their studies they cannot contribute economically so sponsors would be needed.
- Once finished the church repairs we will try to continue with the lower floor of the same building. Later we would try to get sewing machines to develop tailoring abilities and aiming higher ideally we would get people to purchase such work but this is in the future.
- We urgently need to help families with house repairs damaged in attacks. To a larger extent its partial repairs in some cases it is a larger structural repair. Depending on what we can muster we will begin with these works. This work also has another objective, to provide employment.
- Finally there is the question of now, where the most unfortunate families need urgent help, the most vulnerable and don’t know how to help themselves.…
Thank God I found a brilliant group of volunteers who are those that help me to meet and know the families, to understand situations, to plan and to dream… I believe it is essential that the people here get involved as well in acts of charity, thinking of their brothers and helping at least with their help and volunteering for others.
I count on them and count on you guys to specify objective. Undoubtedly the first port of call is prayer, it is He who sustains us, comforts us and helps us with His grace. For that reason I ask that you pray especially to our Lord asking for peace in these countries.
If you wish to get in touch with us:
Our lady of the Annunciation Church, Latin Church, Aleppo. (mariaannunciation.Aleppo@ive.org)
Padre Hugo Fabián Alaniz,VE (firstname.lastname@example.org) Mobile and Whatsapp: +963 991 121 167
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Perhaps to some it catches their attention my way of presenting this reality or being so direct in asking for help but you should see the faces of the people I have met these days. For them I would do so much more.
I appreciate the prayers for these intentions and our people. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch for questions and suggestions.
I take this opportunity to wish you a Holy Week of preparation for Easter, and may our lives be illuminated by the light He offers us.
In Christ and Mary, Our Lady of the Mount, who in Anjara (Jordan) wept tears of blood anticipating what was to come.
Fr Hugo Fabian Alaniz, IVE