07/06/2020, 15.07
SYRIA
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Christian activists help seniors living alone in Aleppo amid the COVID-19 emergency

Syrians are "tired and exhausted" by the war, “revolted” by Western policies and "outraged" by sanctions. The economic crisis has been made worse by the novel coronavirus pandemic. The Blue Marists are promoting projects of support and solidarity for the weakest among local residents. Their work goes beyond the emergency.

Aleppo (AsiaNews) – Like all Syrians "we are tired, tired and exhausted", as well as "revolted" by Western policies and "outraged" by the sanctions imposed "on the 16 million Syrians living in territories under the control of the state," writes Dr Nabil Antaki, on behalf of the Blue Marists, in the 39th Letter from Aleppo.

The Blue Marists are in the forefront of the fight against the novel coronavirus, which is compounding the economic and social crises caused by Syria’s nine-year civil war and the international embargo.

“Sometimes, we think about throwing in the towel and stopping,” reads the letter. “However, when we think that others, now more than ever, need our presence, our support and our help, we take with more vigour the path of solidarity”.

Syria’s civilian population faces obstacles and sufferings every day, ranging from the war and the sanctions to the US Caesar Act against the Syrian regime and the economic crisis, not to mention the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Syrian people no longer know which saint to devote themselves to. The tragedies, one after another, are not alike but lead to the same result” of making “the Syrian people suffer,” when all they want is “to live in dignity [and] in peace.”

In Aleppo, residents celebrated the military’s progress with a mixture of joy and hope, looking forward to a better future after nine years of suffering and deprivation. But “they hardly had time to rejoice and enjoy a return to a normal life,” that “the coronavirus crisis set in with all the [. . .] measures taken by the authorities to prevent the spread of the virus,” like locking down “schools, universities, factories, workshops, shops and all public places,” and imposing a curfew.

“Syrians, in general, and Aleppins in particular, followed the orders wearing masks, avoiding kissing (a widespread tradition in the Middle East) and using disinfecting gel.” In Aleppo, this has meant only 293 cases reported with nine deaths.

Now “the lockdown has been lifted; universities, factories and shops have resumed their activities.” However, restrictions had “paralyzed social life and frozen all economic activity,” which are struggling to resume. “The economic situation is catastrophic. The inflation [rate] is rampant,” and “Syrians are tired, desperate and depressed.”

Against this background, the Blue Marists have undertaken humanitarian initiatives in Aleppo to address the widespread poverty, lockdowns, social distancing, and isolation caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The disease has revealed another emergency, namely the fate of so many senior citizens “living alone, having no more family in Syria, some bedridden or sick and who, because of confinement, have no one left to bring them food.”

To help them, some Christian activists began a project called ‘solidarité coeurona,’ a play on the French word ‘coeur’ (heart). “For the past 3 months, Blue Marist ladies have been cooking a hot meal every morning for 125 people,” says Nabil Antaki in the letter. “Around 1 pm, our young volunteers distribute them to the homes of elderly beneficiaries. With the meal, they give them bread, fruit, their presence and their listening.”

In fact, “We have found that, in addition to the meal they need,” these people “need to feel [a] human touch, special attention and see a smile. This is what our volunteers [. . .] do.”

The project was supposed “to be limited in time,” but will continue, focused mainly on seniors, “people aged 80 to 95 living alone (or with disabled children) in inhumane conditions, without families, without support”.

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