By Murcadha O Flaherty
AFTER six years of devastating civil war in Syria, a leading Catholic charity has announced 32 projects to support thousands of suffering Christian families.
Aid to the Church in Need is backing projects in towns and cities across the country including food packages, shelter, basic help for war widows and other forms of vital assistance.
Almost two thirds of families in Aleppo are surviving on less than £1.60 a day – and the other third are living in extreme poverty.
Working with local Church leaders who have identified urgent needs for Christian families, the charity is giving more than €987,460 (£875,000) to help those in Homs, Aleppo, Damascus and other towns with projects aiming to strengthening the remaining Christian communities.
• Food aid for 2,200 displaced families in Hassake and Aleppo provided by the Sisters of Jesus and Mary led by Sister Annie Demerjian
• Ongoing support for two schools run by religious Sisters in Aleppo
• A multi-purpose sports hall and pitch for young Christians in Aleppo
• Help for 250 university students to finish their studies
• Rent assistance for 340 families struggling with very high rents in southern Syria
• Basic necessities for 75 widows and war wounded
Sister Yvone Yousef Bahdi and Sister Jemma Baghdo run Our Lady of Al-Zanabek Secondary School and the Lord’s Care Orphanage in the Azizieh quarter in Aleppo.
There are 200 boys and girls being taught, at what was once a school for 600 girls.
Despite the school being bombed three times, causing damage to the building, the teaching continued as the Sisters made improvised repairs to the ceilings and covered the windows with plastic sheets where the glass had been shattered.
Sister Bahdi described some of the problems involved in running the school, she said: “We cannot light the children’s class rooms because the diesel generator does not have the capacity for it.”
Father Andrzej Halemba, Head of ACN’s Middle East projects’ section, said: “She has enormous difficulties making ends meet and needs help to run the school which is important for the Christians and for the Sisters”.
Sister Bahdi described why the Sisters keep the school running, saying: “We are continuing the educational process in order to nurture a generation which believes in Christian morality and good citizenship.
“Thank you again for your care, and all thanks to your noble donors.”
The Al-Yarmouk Youth Sport Centre in Aleppo is also helping to rebuild young people’s confidence within a safe environment, after they have suffered from isolation and anxiety from being confined to their homes for years because of constant bombing.
Mr Kevork Mavian, the centre’s coordinator, described the importance of re-opening the sports hall.
He said: “To be able to continue with these sports-based activities in complete security is a source of joy and new hope for us all, and an encouragement in our faith. The Christian faith is part of our identity.
“This project is giving us another perspective on life, especially for the young people in this area… It helps those suffering psychological problems and trauma due to the years of war, and it also helps families to be able to live a more normal life and so contemplate remaining in Syria”.
Mr Mavian added: “I want to thank you for all you are doing for us, especially for our young people who have suffered so much from the war, and for having given us a little hope.
“You continue to be our hope and a source of light for our community here in Aleppo.”
Aid to the Church in Need is a Pontifical Foundation directly under the Holy See. As a Catholic charity, ACN supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in need through information, prayer, and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope St John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in 140 countries throughout the world.
Undertaking thousands of projects every year, the charity provides emergency support for people experiencing persecution, transport for clergy and lay Church workers, Child’s Bibles, media and evangelisation projects, churches, Mass stipends and other support for priests and nuns and training for seminarians.
Aid to the Church in Need UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1097984) and Scotland (SC040748). ACN’s UK office is in Sutton, Surrey and there is a Scottish office in Motherwell, near Glasgow and another office based in Lancaster that covers the North-West.
Please always acknowledge Aid to the Church in Need as the source when using our material.
For more information, contact John Pontifex, ACN UK Head of Press and Information 020 8661 and Digital Media Officer Murcadha O Flaherty on 020 8661 5175