09/30/2017, 10.00
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Aleppo 'neither war nor peace': my mission as a doctor

by Nabil Antaki

A lay member of the Marist Brothers, among the few doctors who remained in the city. The attempt to return to normality clashes with the signs of the violence of the conflict. Programs in favor of families in difficulty and training courses to ensure a future for young people. And the hope, one day, to be able to talk about "true peace".

Aleppo (AsiaNews) - "Neither war nor peace": This is the situation today in Aleppo, the second largest city in Syria, once the economic and commercial capital of the country, long considered the epicenter of the conflict . Today, the goal is "the expulsion of the Islamic State" and the return of the displaced, part of a slow return to normality with "the vast majority of neighborhoods" that have become "safe", writes Nabil Antaki (left in the picture), in his thirty-first letter letter from Aleppo. The medical doctor and lay member of the Order of the Blue Marist Brothers is one of the few doctors left in the city, despite the violence of the conflict that has targeted – even more than others - the medical profession and has created a true hemorrhage of professionals from the country. "If a foreigner - he writes - who followed Aleppo's events and sufferings, came to visit us today, he would be amazed by the traffic density, lighting at the crossroads, our cafes always busy, clean streets, and open to traffic, public play parks full of children playing, school buses [...] running at least two days a week, electricity supplies between 12 and 15 hours a day. "

However, the civilian population still carries the signs - more or less visible - of the years of violence and divisions. That is why it is still essential to maintain service and assistance programs, ranging from the monthly food package, to vocational training courses dedicated mainly to young people, so that they can start a business and build a future in their homeland . The wish, Nabil concludes, is to "move towards new horizons, towards the beginning of a new era to build, through coexistence, concord, responsible citizenship and peace." So that, in the next letter, he could write: "No war, but true peace". Here is the testimony of the Marist doctor from Aleppo. Translated from the original French by AsiaNews:

Neither War nor Peace,

This is how I can describe the current situation in Syria in this month of September 2017, six years and a half after the start of the events that caused the death of more than 350,000 people, destroyed a large part of the country, displaced the third of the population, exiled more than 3 million people and wiped out the dreams and future of the young people and many generations of Syrians.

Currently, all the parties, the Syrian government and international powers, have only one objective: the eradication of Daech in Syria after defeating it in Iraq.

The last bastions of Daech are the two eastern cities: Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of Daech in Syria and Deir El Zor where half of the city, its inhabitants and its garrison were surrounded by the Jihadists for more than three years and supplied by air. The 1st one is half liberated by Kurdish troops supported by the USA. The second one is about to be, the Syrian army, despite heavy losses, was able to liberate the cities and villages of the province of Deir El Zor and broke the siege of the city by connecting with the encircled inhabitants. The Syrians from other Syrians cities have, prematurely, expressed their joy for the liberation of Deir el Zor which is not yet completely liberated. Nevertheless, when Daech will be definitely beaten in the two cities and the surrounding villages, it will be its end in Syria.

In the rest of Syria, it is “Neither War nor Peace”. Under the auspices of Russia, Turkey and Iran, at Astana where the parties have been negotiating for several months, several agreements for the evacuation of the rebels from the enclaves they used to occupy in various regions have been concluded and allowed their transportation to the provinces of Idlib, bastion of Al Nosra.

Moreover, several de-escalation agreements have allowed to freeze the fighting and the situation in several regions: east of Damascus, Homs, Idlib…

The Syrians, while celebrating the cessation of the fighting here and there, worried that the current status quo persists and leads to a prolonged chaos, a partition or sharing of the areas of influence, if that status quo Is not accompanied by significant progresses in the negotiations to reach a political solution of the conflict.

What makes us somewhat optimistic, is that most of the Arab, Western and Turkish governments, which from the start supported, financed and even armed the rebels, mostly the terrorists, have finally understood that the Syrian government will not be overthrown by arms as they thought and desired and that a political solution can only exist by keeping the president, broadly supported by the population, the Syrian army and the Russian ally. Hence, the various statements of the leaders of the western world indicating that their priority is to fight Daech and terrorism- which the Syrian government has been repeating for six years- not the fall of the regime.

In Aleppo, the situation, has improved considerably on all levels since the end of 2016, the date of the evacuation of the last terrorists to Idlib and the liberation of the city. As before July 2012, there is no more east Aleppo and west Aleppo but only one city, Aleppo, several thousand years old.

Some of the western neighborhoods of Aleppo, unfortunately, still receive mortars from the rebels situated 10km from the city on the Idlib side.

But the vast majority of the neighborhoods are safe and the Alepins come and go, and live without the fear of a mortar shell or of a bullet from a sniper. A foreigner, who had followed the events and the suffering of Aleppo, if he comes to visit us now, would be astonished by the dense traffic, the illumination of the intersections, the coffee shops that are always crowded, the roads that are cleared, and open to traffic, the public gardens full of children playing, the school buses in operation, the sidewalks are cleared from the shacks that were used as shops, and the reopening of many businesses that were closed during the war. The running water is, again, provided to us, at least 2 days a week and the power between 12 to 15 hours a day.

However, the picture is not as rosy as that. This situation of “neither war nor peace” does not encourage the hundreds of thousands of Alepins, who are refugees or displaced, to return. The IOM (International Organization for Migration) declared recently that 600,000 people, who are mostly from the province of Aleppo, have returned to their homes. This needs to be clarified, as the majority of these people were internally displaced and had moved to another neighborhood of the city or to another Syrian city.

This situation does not either help the reconstruction -why to rebuild if there is no peace- or for an economic recovery. The cost of living and the unemployment are still very high as well as poverty. The majority of the families of Aleppo still need help to survive.

In front of this situation and these new developments, we, the Blue Marists, want to favor reconstruction, focus on the human development and work to build the future of the Syrians and of Syria. Since the beginning of the conflict, in the worst time of the war in Aleppo, when the relief programs consumed our human and material resources, we maintained our educational programs and we started new ones. And now, while continuing our relief projects, we decided to strengthen our human developmental programs. We firmly believe that the development of the human contributes to the establishment of peace and to the preparation of the future.

We are not, however, going to stop our relief programs, the people still need them.

This is how we started a new project that we called JOB, job for work in English and job for the prophet famous for his patience, a necessary quality for the success of our project. It consists of finding jobs for our young people, to encourage the creation of small projects and motivate them to pursue vocational training. This is to make the families independent financially from the aids they received for more than five years and which should normally stop soon, to encourage young people to stay in the country and participate in the reconstruction of Syria. A team of volunteers is in charge of the project. They establish lists of job offers and demands and make the links between the two. They help young people to think and realize their own work projects, and they support them financially. They train other young people in various professions by sending them at our expense to apprenticeship centers, and finally they create production workshops to create jobs while guaranteeing the profitability of the business. This is how we will soon start a workshop to recycle used clothes that will provide work to a dozen of women.

Our adult education center, M.I.T, which started at the end of 2013, celebrated its four years of existence two weeks ago, by a meeting to which we invited all the leaders of the charity and development associations. Over four years, we have organized 77 workshops of three days each, in which 1404 people participated and were led by 28 leaders. In addition, we have organized two sessions of 100 hours to teach 35 young adults “how to start your own project”. We helped to finance the best 6 projects in terms of feasibility and job creation. We will continue these long sessions about the same theme in order to give as many young people as possible the chance to learn how to create their own business and if necessary, we will finance them.

In partnership with UNDP (the United Nation Development Program), we will open a baby and kids’ clothing workshop, which will provide work for 24 people, the workshop is led by a Bleu Marist. We are also going to lead, for two months, at the request of the UNDP, three projects with the aim of renewing the links, perhaps tense and sometimes broken by the war, between the different parts of the population of Aleppo, to heal the wounds and to repair the social fabric of the Syria of tomorrow.

All of the other educational projects continue. The two projects for the children three to six, “Learn to Grow” and “I want to learn” are resuming their activities with the children on October 2nd after the 24 teachers have spent all the summer creating our own educational programs. The team of “Skill School” for the teenagers worked hard to prepare the program for the year. “Cut and Sew” continues with the wives, mothers and girls, “Eradication of illiteracy”, “Hope” and “Douroub” will restart their activities soon.

We are trying through all these programs to develop the people, to prepare their future and to give them the tools to have a professional activity that will enable them to live.

Our relief programs continue. We believe, after deep reflection and dialogue within our team, that the assistance to the population is still necessary and that the moment to reduce the volume of our help or to stop it has not yet arrived.

Especially since many of our families are recently without resources, the husband having been called as a reservist.

We continue to distribute food and hygiene baskets every month to about 1000 families. We help the displaced families pay the rent of their homes, we distribute water to those who need it. At the beginning of the school year, we gave all the children of our families coupons to purchase school supplies. Our program “Drop of Milk” is at its 29th month of distribution of milk to children under the age of 10.

As for our two medical programs, we are pleased to announce that the “War Wounded Civilians” project is, thanks God, slowing down due to the smaller number of war wounded in Aleppo since its liberation. On the other hand, our medical program to help the sick people, unable to take care of themselves financially or to be operated on, is becoming massive given the number of people in need.

In the summer, we organized at our place, a summer club where families and their children came in the afternoons to relax, play and to spend pleasant moments sipping coffee or a soda with their friends.

During the past six years, we have gone through different periods that we had to manage by different means. The current situation of “neither war nor peace” is one of the most difficult because our answers to the situation are not obvious. It requires constant reflection and adaptation to the new needs, and from our beneficiary families a rehabilitation to the peace so much desired. We want to sow hope in people and see it flourish in confidence, serenity and love.

The Marist brothers, our partners in the Blue Marists, which whom we share the charism and the spirituality, are currently holding their 22nd general chapter in Colombia, during which the Brothers will define the orientation of the congregation for the years to come and elect a new management team. The choice of Colombia to host the chapter, while it is always at the general house in Rome, is significant for the congregation’s willingness to open up to “New Horizons” and to emphasize the peace that is preparing in this country, victims of a war that has been going on for decades.

We too, the Blue Marists, dream of moving toward new horizons, toward a new beginning of an era to construct, to build in life together, the harmony, the responsible citizenship and peace.

“Neither war nor peace” was the title of this letter from Aleppo No 31. May the 32nd one in three months tells you: no war but true peace.




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