29 March 2016
The Rev. Ziad Hilal, S.J., has worked to ease the suffering of those who remain in Homs, Syria, especially the children. (photo: John E. Kozar)
It is impossible to read about the work of the Rev. Ziad Hilal, S.J., a longtime partner of CNEWA, and not be moved. He has worked tirelessly in Syria to help that country’s most vulnerable citizens, its children, during a period of devastating war and upheaval. He wrote about it for ONE in 2013:
Starting February 2012, we realized the new status quo was likely to persist and we had to deal with this new reality, assisting the thousands of families living in temporary shelters in the relatively safe areas of the city. Our first priority was to take care of the hundreds of children who transformed the streets into their only playground and school, putting them at the mercy of the snipers, the shelling and the street violence. I still remember one of the children hiding behind a wall and calling me to take cover from a sniper. The children of Homs became experts in the art of escaping violence, but unfortunately many were not as lucky as I was on that day, and they paid with their lives on the streets.
Recent events have deeply affected the children, and we have noticed changes through our follow-ups at school. When they play, they transform wooden boxes into imitation weapons and play war games, reflecting the reality that the children are also internalizing the patterns of the war around them. Confronting this, we had to work hard to redirect the children to regular games, such as football and other sports.
Most children live in a state of denial. They refuse to acknowledge their fears. Meanwhile, mothers report their children cannot sleep alone in a separate bed anymore, which speaks to their trauma. Some others report cases that required the assistance of a speech therapist and a psychologist to overcome communication troubles.
At the same time, many youth have lost their jobs and their income, their great potential going to waste.
Thus, we decided to join both priorities in one project, aiming to take the children out of the streets and to provide jobs to the displaced youth.
His concluding thoughts:
As a priest, I would like to say our role as a church is to push people toward hope, which should never be abandoned — no matter how unbearable circumstances may seem.
Hope is what CNEWA has helped us provide. I believe it has been a lifeline from God — helping us and guiding our efforts to glorify the name of the Lord.
Read more in his Letter from Syria: Saving the Children of War from the Summer 2013 edition of ONE.