Hurting themselves, young people in Aleppo, Syria bring aid to city’s neediest residents
By Josué Villalón
Briefing to our Donors
SOME 100 young people have gathered in a small building across the street from the Greek Orthodox Church of Mar Elias in northern Aleppo. They are all wearing dark red polo shirts bearing the image of Christ Pantocrator and the logo of the Orthodox Youth Movement. Most of these young people are university students working as volunteers for a charity which is helping 2,200 Christian families in Aleppo who have been plunged into poverty as a result of the country’s civil war.
“We are also helping 1,700 Muslim families, providing them with clothing, food, medicine and shelter for those who have lost their homes in the bombings,” says Elias Faraj, a retired civil engineer who is coordinating the aid program. After five years of warfare and despite the fact that the bombs finally stopped falling last December, Aleppo is still without electricity most of the time and the water supply is still very limited. “Our future is still very uncertain, and the crisis will continue for a long time yet, I fear,” Elias tells us.
On this particular occasion, the group is hosting a visit by Father Andrzej Halemba, a Catholic priest and the head of our Middle East project section. He tells the young people: “You are the hope of Syria, you are the light in the midst of so much darkness.” The words strike a chord—deep emotion shines in the eyes of these young men and women.
“Aid to the Church in Need helped us back in 2015 with funding for a project providing medical supplies. Today, the organization is supporting 700 families each month, for a total of $35,000,” Elias reports, adding: “We are extremely grateful for this aid, and grateful for this visit by Father Andrzej, because it gives us hope and courage to continue working here.”
These young people have themselves also suffered the consequences of the war. Yet despite this, they continue helping those in still greater need. Elias himself was abducted soon after Syria’s unrest began in 2011; after three days he was released after his family paid a ransom. One of his sisters was shot in the leg while walking in the street and came close to losing her leg. “But I have forgiven them. There are some who think that I am stupid for having done so, but I do forgive them. This is the true freedom that God gives us,” Elias says.
Joseph Abdo, a third-year medical student at the University of Aleppo, tells us being part of the Orthodox Youth Movement and its aid program “has been a good experience, because it is teaching me to give to others what I myself have received.” Speaking about the future of his country, he says, “I am longing for peace, first of all. Our generation is the one that is going to have to rebuild the country. I believe that it is our goal to work together to rebuild our community.”
Standing beside him is a young woman, Gadan Naflek, another of the youth volunteers. She tells us: “I am helping with the schooling of young children aged 3 and 4. It makes me really happy to be able to help other people, and I am learning to love and to give to others what I myself have received.” And these young people do not forget to thank us for the aid we are able to provide thanks to our donors.
We have supported the Orthodox Youth Movement since 2015; and we recently committed to fund three of their projects for a total of close to $100,000, including the provision of essential medical supplies for 2,200 Christian families, as well as payment for gas, electricity and bread on behalf of 700 of the most needy families in Aleppo for the rest of this year.