08/07/2017, 21.04
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Aleppo: Some 860 children go to parish summer camp, for the first time without bombs

Children came from various religious background. One Christian family who fled from Raqqa where it lived in fear of the Islamic state tells their story. Camp activities include singing, drawing, sports, and theatre. For the kids, it was an "unforgettable experience".

Aleppo (AsiaNews) – Some 860 boys and girls aged 4 to 15 from various religious backgrounds enjoyed the summer camp organised by the Latin parish of St Francis in Aleppo, led by the 44-year-old friar, Fr Ibrahim Alsabagh.

The camp, held in June and July, attracted more than twice the number than last year’s when 350 attended. In facts, the number of applications "continued to increase" so much that "we had to stop registrations,” the parish said. The new thing this year was the absence of bombs and violence.

The value of this year’s summer camp is best illustrated by the story of a Christian family, one of many. They fled Raqqa, the stronghold of the Islamic State (IS), a year and half ago, and have started to rebuild their lives, albeit with some effort.

The parents and the two children, a nine-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl, saw "all sorts of atrocities" in their home town, including "severed heads put on a pole and left on the public square."

Their story was one of the most significant moments at the ceremony that closed the summer camp, also called ‘summer oratory’.

The family – whose identity was withheld for security reasons the parish said in a note to AsiaNews –lived surrounded by "constant violence and despair”. IS detained the father several times.

The children never saw the inside of a school and arrived in Aleppo at the height of the battle for the control of the city, when missiles and bombs were destroying the city, once Syria's commercial capital.

The two months of oratory were an "unforgettable" and a "completely new" experience for the two kids. They were given the opportunity to draw, sing, listen to music, swim in a pool, and play basketball. "Children's faces lit up," the mother said.

She is grateful to the organisers for their "understanding" towards her children, whose behavior “was not always the best” due to what they experienced in the past. But their attitude, the father noted, "changed during these two months."

The hundreds of children were divided into groups and took part in the activities from Monday to Friday from 9 am to 1 pm. On Saturday, they went to the swimming pool, each group according to a different timetable because the pool was too small to accommodate everyone all at once. On Sunday morning, they attended Mass.

The theme of the Summer Oratory, and the basis of the various activities, was "I will colour my life with Jesus". Each week was centred on a specific aspect of this to boost the relationship with Christ.

More than 60 volunteers and professional educators monitored the children and teenagers in their activities: drawing, theatre, music, singing, football, basketball, swimming, dance, small works of art, and movies.

Knowing that it could not ask families to provide meals in view of the prevailing economic crisis, the parish offered homemade cakes and fruit juice every day.

For the first time in six years, since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, the summer camp was held without the sound or fear of rockets.

At the end of July, participants attended a large exhibition featuring a portrait by a ten-year-old girl of a neighbour, a young soldier who died as a martyr "defending the homeland."

On 28 July at the college of the Holy Land, children showed off what they learnt at the Oratory in the presence of more than 3,200 people, both parents and children, including the apostolic vicar of Aleppo of the Latins, Mgr Georges Abou Khazen.

Speaking about the final evening, the parish priest and custodian Fr Ibrahim explained that every activity this year was linked to a significant event in the history of the Church, including the "celebration for the 800 years of presence of the Franciscan Friars in the Middle East".

The clergyman noted that one of the initiative undertaken by the Church was ‘Aleppo more beautiful’, involving hundreds of young Christians and Muslims in cleaning up the city.

Thanks to the variety of activities, the summer camp gave children an opportunity to "know each other better" and "discover their talents".

“Most of them, especially the youngest, whose childhood was erased by a six-year war, for the first time in their life had the chance to go to the swimming pool, play basketball, and learn to sing. 

However, “what the children appreciated more than anything else was the fact they could play without fear of the missiles. Most of all, the Oratory gave them the chance to release stress, the cumulative stress of six years of war. It has put a smile back on their faces again and laughter.” (DS)

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