Marist Brothers in Aleppo (Syria)
“Since our letter of July 26, the situation in the field has not changed one way or another; fighting continues in the same suburban neighbourhoods of Aleppo. In the other neighbourhoods of the town, the intermittent sound of bombs exploding in the distance, the noise of whistling bullets under our windows and the risk of kidnapping or murder puts us on edge. Due to the shortage of fuel and the security situation, streets are empty, bakeries have no more flour, trash is not collected, power and water are rationed and everyone stays at home - except for the displaced individuals who have left their often very humble homes, abandoning their meagre possessions and fleeing combat zones, and wander along the streets searching for shelter. Public gardens and schools are their refuges. Authorities have opened some thirty schools to accommodate displaced individuals; however, they have only provided them with a roof and leave the rest to the NGOs.
Our group of Marist Brothers and volunteers, known locally as the “Blue Marists” is at present made up of around fifty people, mainy of them youngsters. We have taken charge of 3 adjoining schools in a popular neighbourhood of Aleppo that Christian Alepins call “Djabal Al Sayde” (the Hill of Our Lady) and the Muslims call Cheikh Maksoud. Approximately 900 people are crammed in them, especially families with 4 to 8 children each, all Muslim, certainly Syrian, but from different ethnic backgrounds: there are Arabs, Turkmen, Kurdish and many Kourbates (the Rom). Our involvement takes place at different levels:
- Firstly, provide housing: mattress, towels, drinking water…
- Then food: Iftar (since we are right in the middle of Ramadan) for adults and the three meals for the young, milk for infants…
- Next, hygiene: sanitation equipment, cleanliness of premises, toilets…
- And then health: we have opened a medical unit with young doctors who work on rotation to treat the sick and to especially provide them with medication free of charge.
- We must not forget that these people have left their homes with only the clothes they were wearing. Thus we attempt to provide them with clothing, especially for babies and children.
- Lastly and most importantly, we take care of the children. We try to make them forget the war and their misery. 25 young Blue Marists take turns from mornings to evening to encourage them to play, to distract them and occupy this very long time with educational activities.
Everything we do would be worth nothing if our team were not animated by common values: respect for the other, treating him/her as a brother/sister and not as a recipient of aid; humility, simple relations to give back to the other his or her dignity, the accompaniment of the children and the abandonment of all forms of paternalistic attitude.
In return, we are compensated by the smile that is back on children’s faces and by the fraternal look of the adults. We are convinced that people say about us “see how they love each other and how much they love”, that, to us, is the bes