Ten years have passed since the outbreak of the war in Syria. This war has left behind a worsening humanitarian crisis and is classified as the largest since World War II.
Ten years have passed, leaving behind the largest refugee crisis in the world with 5.6 million Syrians displaced to neighboring countries, 6.7 million others forced to leave their homes and relocate and large numbers of martyrs and permanently wounded citizens.
Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in mid-March 2011, cries of forgotten people were increasing day after day, calling for dear life. The war that ceased in parts of Syria and its repercussions were still burdening the people. Even when many Syrian cities and villages were safe again, a new kind of suffering was imposed on Syrians. The cost of living has significantly increased in lights of the economic sanctions imposed on Syria.
A recent World Food Program study shows that 12.4 million Syrians (nearly 60 per cent of the population) are food insecure. The study also revealed that the number of people who cannot survive without food aid has doubled within one year, reaching 1.3 million.
The study indicated a rise in food prices in Syria by 233 per cent in 2020 alone. This percentage is increasing day after day, at a time when Syrians cannot bear the cost of a basic meal and are under great economic pressures due to the uncertain fate of the ongoing war.
After the Coronavirus hit Syria, many Syrians lost their jobs. Most of them are living below the poverty line and are in urgent need of humanitarian aid.
Amid the darkness of war, the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) lit a candle of hope for those displaced and affected by the Syrian crisis through the implementation of humanitarian programs in many governorates, under the title: “Service with Dignity”. The programs varied between educational and vocational trainings for the youth and women, distributions, health awareness, support for small projects, support for agriculture and livestock, water and sanitation program and cash for work.
A lot has been written about the Syrian war and we can imagine the tragedy it put people through. However, no matter how we feel, we cannot relate to parents who are unable to provide the most basic needs of their children, unsure whether or not they will be able to put food on the table the following day.
This is why the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) provided food baskets, health portions, winter clothes for children, coats for adults, and school stationary.
The number of women benefiting from the health program reached 1695 in 2020. Women underwent a health awareness session during which they learned about most common diseases in society, their causes, treatments and methods of prevention. They learned how to use a blood pressure monitor correctly, and the basic principles of first aid. They also learned about effective communication skills, positive thinking, dealing with difficulties, setting goals and developing a plan to achieve it. Then, they transferred their knowledge to poor families, spreading health awareness among the largest possible number of community members.
Building a Future
Students have paid dearly during this decade of war. A large number was forced to leave home with their families as a result of violence. Their social and educational environment changed, weakening their academic level and many found it difficult to return to school after dropping out.
MECC worked on supporting students, and it organized special courses for undergraduate students to recap needed information, as well as psychological support sessions, mitigating the effects of trauma on children.
Part of the program included helping students pay part of the tuition fees and school fees to reduce the financial burden on affected and displaced families.
The council was also able to train 88 male and female teachers during 2020, on child protection policies. The council’s goal is to spread this training to all schools in the future and train them on how to deal with children who have severe psychological trauma due to witnessing the violence that their regions suffered from.
Since the beginning of the crisis, MECC has been keen to support young people who cannot find work or who lost their jobs due to war and displacement, and has provided them with vocational training courses and financial aids to pay for small projects.
In order to empower affected women in this ordeal, the council held crochet knitting training courses as they can practice this profession at home.
MECC was also concerned with supporting an important and vital sector, the livestock sector with the aim of empowering poor and affected families and enhancing their capabilities to work and participate in the economic life. Beneficiaries of cattle keepers underwent training on how to care for livestock, deal with potential diseases that may affect them, pick optimal food for livestock to increase the quality and quantity of milk and learn the basics of business management.
MECC worked on the establishment of mobile veterinary clinics in which veterinarians provide the necessary health care to cows, including medicines, vaccinations, operations, artificial insemination and births.
For manufacturers of dairy products, the council provided financial aid that helps them improve and develop their workshops to meet quality and hygiene standards. The council also gave them a training in basic marketing skills and manufacturing optimal quality milk products in accordance with the HACCP standard.
To support the agricultural sector, MECC distributed barley seeds to farmers in Daraa Governorate.
As part of the cash-for-work project to secure temporary job opportunities, the council, in cooperation with municipalities and the local community, encouraged displaced young men and women to work in cleaning campaigns to transfer waste and dust and clean populated areas in exchange for a salary making beneficiaries active and productive agents in their societies, giving them hope for a better future for themselves and their families. They will be contributing in the same time in the revival of their homes.
The council restored health facilities in 15 schools in 2020 in many Syrian governorates, providing a healthy school environment for students. In those schools, the council carried out awareness-raising activities for students on how to prevent infectious diseases and the Coronavirus. Students learned practical methods of prevention, such as the correct method of washing hands and preventive measures to avoid infection.
The war not only destroyed human life, its history. During ten years of war, many historical buildings were destroyed in Syria, including churches that were more than 100 years old. MECC contributed in restoring churches to serve as a beacon guiding displaced people back to their homeland and cities.
The council worked on restoring these sites, including churches, cultural centers, schools and nursing homes for the elderly in many Syrian governorates. The project started last year and is still going.
Human Dignity and Rights
In addition to in-kind aids, MECC is knowns to defend human rights and human dignity. The council repeatedly called for the need to lift the economic sanctions imposed on the Syrian people, violating their right to live in dignity and threatening to unleash an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the region.
The council, along with a number of Middle Eastern churches, sent a message to the new US President Joe Biden, urging him to respond immediately to the extreme humanitarian emergency in Syria, stressing on lifting the economic sanctions burdening Syrian people for years, aside from difficult life conditions and daily worsening economic, social and health crises, especially with the Coronavirus and its deadly repercussions.
After ten years of war that struck the lives of Syrians and turned them upside down, the people haven’t healed from the repercussions yet as they are waiting for salvation. They don’t know how or when it would come, but they have no other choice but wait, believing that whenever life throws a tragedy at us, a spark of hope rises to stitch up the world around us.