Here are some news from our missions in the East of which am returning just before the fall of Aleppo and the still problematic access of humanitarian aid to the inhabitants of this martyr city…
Entering Damascus, the capital of Syria, one feels a true relief to discover that the city is identical to the one crossed years before the war. Not a stone fell nor moved in this ancient city continuously inhabited since the Neolithic. Veiled girls drink tea and smoke hooka late afternoon, sitting at the Al Nawfara terrace at the foot of the Umayyad Mosque.
In the Chapel of St. Ananias, where saint Paul recovered his vision, seminarians sang the Our Father in Aramaic. Buses discharge their stream of Shi’ite pilgrims from Iran and Lebanon who come to meditate on the tomb of Sayeda Zeinab, the granddaughter of Mahomet. The religions intersect, coexist. As before.
However with a few nuances… the dull and episodic sound of shells exchanged by the rebels (from their district of Douma, north-east of Damascus) and the regular army, claiming new victims; The interminable waiting to get an appointment with the doctor, when 70,000 of them went to take refuge abroad; But also the impoverishment of Damascens (sanctions, prices multiplied by ten since the fall of the Syrian pound, generating black market and corruption) and its corollary, hunger that tarnished the two million displaced of Syria (Aleppo, Lattakia, Homs, Idleb…) came to seek refuge in the suburbs of the capital. Wretched families survive in unhealthy rooms of ten square meters. They have lost their home, their livestock, their work, their village roots and are sleeping on suitcases today, waiting for a meal a day, too often composed of a few pieces of bread.
For them, Father Khalil, from the Lazarist community, and our local team are currently distributing warm clothes, food, and money. Our support is aimed at those children whose families are too poor to apply for a visa abroad, not educated enough to take their destiny in charge, or perhaps because they are subject to ever burning love for their country. I saw Damascene students singing at night, in French, Arabic, English, and howling their passion for their city “that they will never leave, until death!“. As a challenge. But also as a therapy. To hold on…
A few kilometres west of Damascus, in Lebanon, in the Bekaa Plain, Sister Amira, our correspondent, is a tenacious educator of refugee children in Syria, in the centre that Mission Enfance created eight years ago in the village of Deir Al Ahmar. Having dropped out of school for too long, 400 Syrian children find in our centre an education worthy of a Lebanese school.
They receive attention, listening, psychological care, speech therapy… Lebanese and Syrian mothers receive medical and psycho-social awareness courses conducted by gynecologists, social workers and psychologists. Professional training is provided in sewing, aesthetics, English, electricity… In order to respond more adequately to these distraught people, far from their soil, and increase the capacity of our centre we are adding an additional floor with new classrooms. Among the tents scattered in the plain, some adults work in the fields, waiting for a delayed return… Hence the importance of educating their children. It is for this generation of tomorrow that we must act today.
On the other side, in the heart of Mesopotamia, in the Nineveh Plain in Iraq, disarray has seized the displaced Christian families in the north of Ankawa. The two terrible years spent in the camps were only the first signs of their disappointment when they discovered their liberated villages. While in Ankawa, in the recent Babylon centre, replenishment of the Ishtar Gate, displaced people sing the “return” to their land, the most impatient go back to see their house…
In Qaraqosh, like a movie set, the pink sandstone houses remain straight, almost intact. The wild weeds on the pavements, the heavy silence, the absence of birds, the cannon heard in the distance, give to the atmosphere this abnormality of abandoned towns. Everywhere on the walls, threats in Arabic “We will come back”, Arab-European signatures “Abou Norveji”… And behind the gates of these houses open to the wind, shattered locks, each one faces an inner apocalypse, Violated. The lucky ones enter devastated homes, plundered, with a stage skilfully orchestrated by the recent jihadist occupiers. Inspecting her room, a Qaraqosh woman is even threatened by an armed jihadist, still hidden in his closet.
Elsewhere, on a pile of clothing, a human skull sits as a provocation. The kitchen is filled with the gravel from the tunnel dug in the living room. “It is the Yezidi women and children, who are the slaves of the Daesh, who have to do this chore”, saddened Yalda, my companion, “but for the more important tunnels like the one that leads to Mossul, 3 kilometres away from here, the jihadists used Western drills.” Some tunnels, equipped with ventilators, electricity, end in the middle of the street, in the courtyards, without apparent logic. The cables of the generators run far from the houses occupied by Daesh, protection against the aerial tracking. And the mines all more judiciously placed… Braving this evil undertaking, Christians search every room, looking for an album, a photo, a memory that will bring them back to their past reality.
As for the churches of Qaraqosh, they are almost all burned from the inside. “Even Genghis Khan would never have committed such a crime” Father Nageeb, dominican priest despairs before the ashes of his convent and the book burning perpetrated in his court. These visitors of a few hours leave collapsed, sick, suffocating because of the toxic fumes of the fires. Stunned, all wonder “What happened to us? “.
The pill is so bitter to swallow for these Christians that many of them are applying again for their visa. In front of her devastated house, a woman weeps “Exile will kill me. O my people, help me to live the joy of returning to Bakhdida (Qaraqosh) my beloved! “.
Meanwhile, Mission Enfance supports the refugee camps in Ankawa (Al Karma, Al Amal) by financing the daily transportation of students to their university in Kirkuk, 100 kilometres away.
Syrians, Iraqis, all sincerely share the same love for their country, all are deeply attached to their roots, to their land. More than ever, we must support them and allow them to stay at home. But for that, we need your help urgently.
Offer these children of the East
a Christmas worthy of our origins !
Receive, dear friends, my gratitude and my warmest wishes.
Director of Mission Enfance