Nov 15, 2023

Letter from Aleppo: Giving up is not an option

Brother Georges Sabé of the Blue Marists, CSI’s partner in Aleppo, says that after the civil war, pandemic and earthquake, the people in Syria have had enough, and many want to emigrate. In an open letter, Brother Georges describes the daily impact of economic sanctions on Syrians, more than 90 percent of whom live below the poverty line.

Blue Marists Aleppo

The Blue Marists work to improve the lives of people in Aleppo. Maristes Alep/Facebook

 

The outbreak of war in Israel is having a devastating effect on neighboring Syria, and causing many Syrians to despair of life in the region, writes Brother Georges Sabé in a letter from Aleppo sent at the end of October. The airports of Damascus and Aleppo are coming under regular bombardment, he says. “Enough is enough! Haven’t we been attacked, threatened and terrified enough? How long will all this go on for?,” he asks. 

At a day of prayer and fasting for peace, many people expressed their war-weariness and spoke of their longing to leave the region, he says. Young adults, in particular, are “looking for a future away from war and misery.” 

The Syrians have lived through a civil war, the Covid pandemic, and an earthquake, and now are facing the uncertainty caused by the war in Gaza. “At the moment, we are in a state of waiting and watching closely to see what happens in our region and in the country as a whole,” says Brother Georges.  

For him the question is, “How can we sow hope in a shattered society, a society that is becoming ever poorer, a society that is struggling to survive, a society that no longer has the strength to stand up? 

“We are being punished” 

International economic sanctions, imposed after the outbreak of the civil war in 2011, weigh heavily on Syrians, who have to deal daily with food shortages, rationed electricity and galloping inflation, according to the Catholic brother. 

“Everything is getting more expensive by the day,” he notes. For instance, school fees and supplies for a single child now represent more than half their parents’ annual salary. 

“As the days go by, we see the extreme poverty in which so many families find themselves,” he says. 

Brother Georges describes the reality for Syrians as being like living on the “planet of sanctions.” “We are being punished,” he writes: “We refuse to be treated like outcasts. We want our dignity back. We want to be reintegrated into the international community.” 

Help for the disadvantaged 

In these difficult times, giving up is not an option for the Blue Marists. “We are doing everything we can to support the most disadvantaged,” states Brother Georges.  

The organization run by volunteers operates 15 social projects in Aleppo. Among those supported by CSI is “Shared Bread”, which provides a hot meal to 250 elderly people each day. The number of people over 80 who receive food through the program is growing all the time, says the Marist Brother. 

Another CSI-sponsored project provided furniture, electrical appliances, and food to survivors of the February 2023 earthquake. Brother Georges recalls that when one elderly woman was handed her food basket, she burst into tears. “She explained that she had not had a drop of olive oil – essential in Middle Eastern cookery – in the house for several days,” he says. 

Microcredits 

CSI also supports a project to provide microcredits to young people to set up in business. In addition to funding, the beneficiaries receive guidance and support. 

The “Heartmade” project, which also receives CSI funding, provides work to 20 women who make new clothes from leftover fabrics. The project is being developed so as to increase output and become self-financing.  

Brother Georges ends his letter from Aleppo by thanking donors: “You are our hope! We are counting on you so that together we can change the world to make it more just, more dignified and more humane.” 

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