11/29/2018, 13.05
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Caritas Syria: beyond the war, bridges of solidarity between Christians and Muslims (I)

by Sandra Awad*

The conflict has separated people and divided entire communities. The region that was the symbol of violence near Damascus is the starting point for rebuilding solidarity networks. Help has been provided to hundreds of students at a school reduced to rubble in Medaa. Scout groups from the capital are also involved in the initiative.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – A group of Christian activists from Caritas recently visited Eastern Ghouta, a former rebel stronghold not far from Damascus, driven by a desire to build bridges in a place torn by war and divisions that built up over the years. Scores of attacks from the area touched the Christian neighbourhoods of the old city.

Sandra Awad is the director of Communication for Caritas Syria. She illustrates a special project of solidarity project. The first part of her testimony follows below:

“Two months ago, a taxi driver took us to Ghouta to offer some help to needy families. He seemed not to be happy with our visit. He said that we should help Christian families instead, but when we arrived there and after he closely saw the misery of the people in Ghouta, he took out a big plastic bag from his car and started distributing old clothes and biscuits to the children,” said Rita, from the communication department in Caritas Syria.

“War has destroyed our country, but what is worse is that it has destroyed the bridges between people! The story of the taxi driver made us realize that we really needed to work on reconciliation and rebuilding bridges between people by getting them in contact with each other,” Rita added.

The call of Caritas Internationalis for the solidarity walk, within the “Share the Journey Campaign”, which aims to get migrants and local communities closer to each other, was a good chance for us in Caritas Syria to try to build bridges between Christians in Damascus, who suffered from mortar shells fired from Ghouta for many years, and the people in Ghouta who were besieged and lived in a terrible security and humanitarian situation for years. Therefore, we decided to invite many Christian scout groups from different churches in Damascus to walk along with us toward Ghouta.

Since May 2018, Caritas has succeeded in entering Ghouta many times, and distributed food baskets, fresh vegetables and diapers in many villages and shelters there. One of the poorest villages we visited in Ghouta was Medaa. We distributed around 270 food baskets to the residents of that village on October 4, 2018. During the distribution, a man in his fifties approached us and asked us if we could accompany him to see the school of the village.

“Once we arrived there, we were shocked by the fact that 377 students were attending this destroyed school every day, the classes were without windows or doors, the desks were very poorly made by the residents of the village, the eight bathrooms were without doors, sewer grates were opened in the yard of the school where the children were supposed to run and play every day,” said Hiba, a social worker from the psycho-social support team.

This school is one of the 57% of education facilities, which are still functioning in Syria. Many schools have no access to electricity, water and sanitation facilities.

“Yesterday I received the result of the studies by the committee from the Environment Ministry on water used in our school,” said the director. “It is not drinkable and it is not even good to be used in washing. Unfortunately, we have a good well nearby, which could provide the school with drinkable water, but the problem is that we don’t have the means to take the water out. We even don’t have electricity.”

With the start of the cold weather season, thousands of women, children and men across Ghouta will struggle to get adequate warmth and will require targeted support.

“When it rains, we simply ask the students to go back home as the poor building of the school cannot protect them from the rain, knowing that the majority of the students live in destroyed houses, without windows, doors or furniture, which are very similar to their school,” said Manal, a teacher at the school.

Due to the extreme poverty of people and the bad conditions of the school in this village, we decided that the destination of our solidarity walk would be Medaa. We wanted the young scout groups from Damascus to see on the ground how those students were living in bad conditions and struggling every day in a poor school to have their education. We also wanted people in Medaa to feel that Christians are not careless or bad people; on the contrary, they are full of compassion, care and love.

* Director of communications for Caritas Syria

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