Poverty in Qara
Since November 2013 our village has been freed. Before that we were living in a very difficult situation. (you can read how the village and our monastery were freed in the article: “Life during the war”).
Now the village has regained much of its original population. The greengrocers work normally again; we have a new mayor and all the children go back to school. It is mainly thanks to our volunteer group, "the group of Love and Peace” (who also go by the name of “Mother Fadia Al Laham Humanitarian Assistance Team” that the village has returned to its normal trend. (Fadia Al Laham is the civil name of Mother Agnes Mariam. The group of Love and Peace [“Fariq Muhaba wa al Salaam” in Arabic] was created in 2013. It gathers Christian and Muslim volunteers around the Monastery who aim to help the Syrian war victims.
After the liberation of the village they spared no efforts to provide the people with food and health packages which came from abroad thanks to benefactors, through Mother Agnes and Father Daniel. Today the volunteers have grown into a big group consisting of 30 to 40 men and women who are now official employees of the Red Crescent in Syria, department Qara. Parts of the relief goods for Qara thus come from the Red Crescent and another part from our foreign benefactors. Our new building has become today a depot of food packages, enough to supply food and sanitary supplies to 300 families for one month [at the time of writing]. Next to Qara we also have distribution points for humanitarian aid in Jeramana (Damascus) and Khrab (Tartous).
Thank God, our region is now more or less safe, unlike other places. Yet the needs remain very great here: the acute unemployment, the long blackouts that force little businesses to close down, which prevents farmers from giving water to their vegetables.... There is also a growing shortage of cooking gas and fuel oil to heat the houses (the winters can be very strong here – the village is located at 1200m above sea level). Often the poorest people live in rudimentary concrete houses or even in earthen houses. This past week [at time of writing, November 2014], two of our volunteers went to visit the houses of the very poorest. Often you really have to look for them. They live, hidden among the masses, ashamed of their poverty. This is their story:
For example, in the Kahil family the father has an artificial leg up to his knee. He has no job. His disabled son has to wear diapers and his medication alone costs 10 000 SP per month. In the Nasif family the dad has a cancer on his head that puts pressure on his eye, an eye disease which makes it protrude. His medication is very expensive. Every two weeks he needs to go to Damascus for a blood test. He has three children. His wife is unemployed. In another family, a widow has an artificial foot that has to be renewed every two years. She has four children in school, so there’s no money coming in. They live in very poor conditions. Another widow has three children who attend school.
In the house of the Nasif family
mom and dad are about 70 years old. Their two daughters
are sick; the parents have to accompany them to the bathroom. They are
very poor. Three or four other families have no father anymore. The children go to school and the mother is unemployed. Another elderly couple has no income as well and their daughter lives with them. Their son has a mental retardation, so he cannot work.
There are many stories like this. We try to help them with the money and the goods that come from across the world. At least we want to ensure their medical care and to provide them with basic food.
The new building: here we have provisions stacked for 300 families for 1 month
[at time of writing].
This is the situation described in Qara. Other areas like Damascus (photo), and its suburbs, however are far worse. A lot of people there have had their houses destroyed and survive in public parks. Countless are the families who’ve had loved ones being kidnapped by terrorists. If they have the money they can pay the ransom, but often they don’t. And thus beloved family members disappear just like that, without warning through kidnappings, through car bombs that go off regularly in Damascus or through blind bombings from rebels outside of the city. When we ask people how they continue going out of their houses every day knowing they could easily be hit by a bomb they answer: “People have to go to work; we’ve become used to it”. This really characterizes the Syrian spirit: whatever happens they continue!
Everything has become extremely expensive compared to the old days. Before the war food was very cheap. It was very rare to see someone hungry. 10 breads used to cost 25 Syrian Pounds. (about half a euro). Today the prices of bread are kept low by the government but the prices of about everything else has gone up radically. People are in lack of almost everything. A member of our humanitarian “team of love and peace”, told us: “I just had my wife in Damascus on the phone. A man rang the doorbell and asked if we had a jacket for him. To that my wife phoned me to ask where the donations of jackets for the poor are stacked. I told her that I didn’t know but that she should search thoroughly and that if she didn’t find one she should give him mine”. After that I saw him staring at the stars with sad eyes saying: “I have a jacket, and so many people don’t”. [Today, (January 2015), we’ve heard the tragic news that children died from the cold in Damascus].
He told me another story: a relative of his was helping distributing food and health packages to the poor in Damascus. Lately however he had stopped. Now in the building in Jeramana, Damascus, where his relative lives, lives his aunt, an old holy lady. All she does is pray. She is loved by everyone. One day he went to visit her asking her to pray for him. She answered: “I always pray for you, but why don’t you help the poor anymore? You should go back to helping the poor”. Then the man of our humanitarian team looked at me smiling: “now he’s helping us again and he even brings friends of his with him”.
More important than providing food and clothes is employment. Mother Agnes Mariam has founded a little factory in Homs. Here in Qara a carpet factory is on the verge of reopening its business (see photo). At the same time we are gathering sowing machines to be able to give work to women who stay at home. This is the sector where we could use ideas and expertise. Email us if you have any propositions on how we could create employment for the Syrians.
Like we've said in the beginning of this article, the team of “love and peace” has now grown to be responsible of the Red Crescent, department Qara. Several times now young people of the Red Crescent have come to our monastery to train the Qara group who’ve had a couple of their sessions in the monastery. Their testimonies are heartwarming: this summer a young student from Damascus, who’s a Red Crescent volunteer, told us: “I don’t see my parents any more. I am always working with the Red Crescent. Often I work 16 hours a day delivering food and health packages or taking care of the sick and injured because of the constant random bombings from rebels outside the city. I just have to go and help”.
In their last session here at the monastery they were about 30 Red Crescent volunteers. Some of them were really thirsty for the Lord and spent long evenings with us, eager to know Christ. The affliction of this war truly is mysterious. They had questions like: “Is this war a punishment from God?” The Bible teaches us:
"Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed". (Heb 12:5-13)
The testimony of love, unity, of heartfelt compassion which sprouts form all the misery is what gives us hope. We are truly consoled to see the strength of the Syrian people, even amongs so many afflictions. The amazing strength of the Syrian soul is a remarkable fact: A French nun, very close to the monastery has recently come to visit us from Europe. She said she was amazed when she saw the calm and serene look of a nurse to whom she talked in the nearby hospital. She asked her: “Where are you from?” “From Homs”, she replied. “Oh, are you all right?” “Yes, we have lost everything, but thanks to God my children and my husband are alive”. She smiled. The French nun told us that no one in France would react to a situation like that in such a dignified and serene way. In all this, and much more we are confident in Jesus’s work in his beloved Syria. Now help us to help the Syrians!