WINNIPEG, Man. – In October, students arriving at a Christian school in Aleppo, Syria, discovered that a rocket had blown out a portion of a classroom. So many rockets were landing in the area that the school administrators hadn’t yet realized the school was hit.
One of the area pastors sends his children to that school and distributes Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) cash allowances to the most vulnerable people in his community. This pastor, who is not named for his security, also reported that a family of five was killed just outside the doorstep of the building where his church meets.
The city of Aleppo, which used to be an affluent city before being ravaged by war during the last five years, experienced escalating violence again this summer. Violence peaked in October as Syrian government and rebel air strikes rattled the city. In spite of the worsening situation and intensified fighting, MCC’s partners continue to distribute humanitarian assistance in Aleppo, where its residents are still going to school, to work and to churches and mosques.
“It is a city that is surrounded by fear, with bombs dropping, and with no electricity nor water, and everything that’s going on in here makes it seem like it’s impossible to live,” said a person from Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches (FMEEC), an MCC partner. “People will never give up, even though they sometimes lose hope or are afraid, but people here remake their lives daily.”
MCC supports students in four church-based schools in Aleppo with tuition and teachers with trauma resilience training. In addition, MCC provides a learning support program for 54 high school students whose schools have been destroyed or are now used as shelters. The students meet with teachers in a Syrian Orthodox church to continue their studies and take national exams that allow them to progress to the next grade.
Peacebuilding efforts also continue, working to bridge divides between religious and political groups. Church members distribute cash allowances, blankets and kits filled with hygiene items as a way to carry out their mission.
“In the midst of suffering, faith does not disappear …,” said Doug Enns of Winnipeg, Man. Doug and Naomi Enns serve as MCC representatives in Lebanon and Syria. “MCC’s aid helps strengthen the churches to be able to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable in their communities during this time of war and loss.”
Sosamma, a 91-year-old woman whose real name is not used, left her home in a state of shock after a missile hit it last summer. She now lives alone with great difficulty and suffers from memory loss. Without a regular income, she relies on help from others and appreciates MCC’s relief kit, filled with hygiene supplies.
“At my old home, my brother used to visit me with his family from time to time, as well as my friends. But now, since the city is witnessing a very bad situation, it’s very difficult to live or even to try to go out to buy food or any other things. I depend on my neighbors and good people like you to get my essential and necessary needs; you are my only hope in these difficult days,” Sosamma told workers for the Middle East Council of Churches, another MCC partner.
Doug Enns said people stay in Syria because they hope one day they will be able to live in peace.
“They don’t want to leave their home. Syrians love their country, their homeland, their culture, their history. It’s part of who they are,” he said.
While many Syrians have left the country in search of safety, there are still 6.1 million displaced within the country.
“Some Syrians, who have exhausted all other options, have left their homeland for the West. … But the greatest need remains for those who are staying in the Middle East wanting no more than to just go home and live in peace,” Enns said.
“We need enough support here now for people to survive, maintain hope and prepare to rebuild lives when the crisis ends. So our work as MCC here in the Middle East is to respond to this primary need,” he added.
MCC has designated more than US$40 million through 36 partners in response to the Syria and Iraq crisis since 2011, including more than 60 shipments of hygiene items, blankets and other humanitarian supplies. Significant contributions from MCC’s account at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and the Canadian government have bolstered this response.
MCC currently has 11 ongoing humanitarian relief projects in Syria and Lebanon and additional work in Jordan and Iraq. Projects include provision of food, cash allowances, water, hygiene supplies and heating fuel, as well as support for education, employment, trauma healing and peacebuilding.
To support MCC’s relief, development and peace work in Syria and Iraq, go to mcc.org/syria-iraq.