By Maria Lozano
A woman weeps. Wrapped in a sheet on which is written in Arabic the word “Syria”, the woman, who is pregnant, sheds tears which run down over her abdomen, within which are two babies fighting with each other. The mother is holding a dagger in her hands, threatening to stab herself in her own womb.
It is just one of the hundreds of drawings sent from Aleppo and other Syrian cities to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). The pictures drawn by Syrian children tell of bombings, death, tears, houses destroyed, weapons, fire and war and they reveal their profound suffering over the past six years. In another of the drawings a man is weeping, carrying a suitcase. His wife, also with tears in her eyes, is saying goodbye to him. She is wearing a pink dress with hearts on it.
“Before the war, Syria was widely respected in the Middle East. Education and healthcare were free. Homs was developing very well; people were earning a reasonable salary, food was not expensive and many people could afford to buy a house or a car. I was studying to become a dentist, and I wanted to open a dental surgery in my suburb.” The speaker is Majd J and she is a volunteer worker on a project funded by ACN to help families in need in Homs. The eyes of this young Syrian woman shine brightly as she sits in her overcoat to protect herself from the cold – as there is no heating in people’s homes. The glass in the windows of the houses is smashed, and many of them still have holes where the missiles struck. She relates how one family lost their son, who died of his illness for lack of medication, and how they now have another who has been diagnosed with cancer. Another family has just lost its father, who died of a heart attack as a result of the stress and suffering of the last few years. With tears in her eyes, she looks straight at me and says very slowly, “I understand nothing of this conflict. Nothing.”
And many miles away from Homs, in the region of Zaleh in Lebanon, where many Syrians have taken refuge, the father of a family remarks, “The cure has been worse than the sickness. There were problems with Assad, but what has befallen us since then with the Islamic State has been simply inhuman. In the town of Rakkah we weren’t allowed to smoke in the street, and girls of six had to cover up completely before going outside. We were living in fear every day.”
The same suffering is palpable in the Lenten pastoral message of Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus, who sums up the recent years of conflict in his country in these words: “In six years of war the face of Syria has been completely transformed. A large wasteland of ruins, pulverized buildings, burned out homes, neighborhoods turned into ghost towns, villages razed to the ground, and more than 12 million Syrians (half the population) don’t have roofs over their heads. They form the largest mass of refugees since World War II. Several million have left the country in search of a kinder environment. Many are depending on hand-outs in miserable camps, many have drowned, and many stand in long lines at embassies. They have become a nomadic people in search of a land that will welcome them. How can Syria escape from this torture?“
Syria continues to suffer the consequences of the conflict, and even though the media seem to have fallen silent since the conclusion of the battle for Aleppo, the situation in that city continues to be precarious. „In Aleppo there is a grave shortage of electricity, and sometimes there is only light and power for an hour or two a day – and sometimes not even that – so that we have to rely on candles. There is a problem with fuel because the government is unable to distribute it“, says Sister Annie, a Syrian nun who, with help from the international foundation ACN, is supporting hundreds of families in the city. „In Aleppo we are also suffering a shortage of water; we are living in a town without running water – and sometimes we go for as long as a month and a half without any.“
A yellow bus drives along a tree-lined road. You can see the passengers in the bus, and the driver. Above it, in the top right-hand corner, where children usually paint the sun, a black bomb-like projectile appears almost unnoticed in the sky, in the shape of a rocket with a fiery tail. Yet in the midst of all the many drawings depicting scenes of warfare, fighting, fire and death there are also the others – those which depict flowers emerging from a revolver, or doves of peace over the map of Syria, children joining hands around the world, a girl celebrating her exam results… These are the ones who have drawn, not what they are living through, but what they long for and desire – a Syria in peace and unity and a return to their homes.
ACN is channelling vital help to many needy families via the structures of the local Church, and has been doing so ever since the beginning of the conflict in Syria. This month the foundation has announced that it will be allocating over 15,000 Euros in healthcare aid for 2,200 Christian families in Aleppo and a further 60,000 Euros for a milk distribution programme for the children of Aleppo.