Damascus micro-projects center gives hope to Syria’s embattled Christians

THE CHRISTIAN HOPE CENTER, a vocational training program supported by the Catholic Church, on July 22nd opened its first ever micro projects center in the historic Christian center in the Syrian capital of Damascus.

The program will provide individuals with funds, equipment or training to begin new business ventures or restart projects disrupted during the decade-long Syrian war. The center operates under the spiritual direction of Latin-rite Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, apostolic vicar of Aleppo.

The micro-projects program center is based in Bab Touma, Damascus’s historic Christian quarter, opposite the Melkite Cathedral of Our Lady of the Dormition. Staff and volunteers are busy reviewing applications. The Christian Hope Center in Aleppo aims to replicate in the nation’s capital the success of centers in Aleppo and Homs, which have had a 78 percent success rate.

Many Syrian Christians say that today’s economic crisis is worse than during the decade of civil war; 90 percent of the Syrian population now lives below the poverty line. While Damascus is the administrative capital of the country, many Christians there are dealing with severe poverty, especially in the districts of Jaramana and Dwelaa. Both neighborhoods house large populations of Christians who fled war in other parts of the country. The spiraling cost of rent, medicine, and food has left many households unable to cover their basic costs.

Struggling Christian families typically turn for support to the Church, which provides aid in the support of food packages, rent subsidy, and tuition aid. Many Christians, however, say that while they are grateful for the emergency aid, they need the stability of regular work to support their families.

In the context of a great many Christian families emigrating to pursue a better life in the West, this stability is what they say they need to lead a dignified life in their homeland. Although today Syria is more than 90 percent Muslim, as late as the 1920s it was 30 percent Christian. Damascus has particular significance as one of the sites of the earliest Christian communities.The new center in Damascus is just steps from the Straight Road mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles as the place where St. Paul had his sight healed by Ananias after his conversion on the road to Damascus.

Carla Audo, a staffer at the Christian Hope Center, thanked the donors of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) for their support for the program in Damascus: “We can help the families to start over, we give them a reason to stay, and a chance to rebuild their country. I just want to thank supporters from ACN for their support and for their constant inspiration.”

Johnny Sayegh

One local Christian able to successfully support his four family members in Aleppo thanks to a micro project is 25-year-old Johnny Sayegh. In 2013, his father was kidnapped and murdered by a Syrian militant group, leaving him with his mother and two siblings without a stable source of income. Born blind in one eye and left disabled after a workplace incident, he had more limited career options. The Christian Hope Center, however, was able to support him with a grant to purchase equipment for a coffee shop, which now provides income for himself and his family.

The new project in Damascus is supported by ACN and builds on the prior work of other international organizations that have supported the Christian Hope Center in Syria (including Oeuvre d’Orient and Caritas Poland).

Since 2011, ACN has spent some $50 million to provide pastoral and humanitarian aid to Syria’s Christian population to help alleviate the impact of discrimination, war, and poverty.

—Xavier Bisits