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Archbishop Boulos works from a modest three-story rectory, located just outside Khabab. Though surrounded by vineyards and grazing land for cattle, the archbishop touches on the principal challenge facing him and his community – the absence of a sustainable economic future for the Houran. The associated problems are all too familiar in rural Syria: an insufficient water supply, a lack of modern agricultural equipment and a limited choice of crops that can thrive in the region’s lush volcanic soil but harsh climate.

The archbishop does what he can to invigorate the local economy, and has initiated a few projects to this end, but his resources are modest and the problems vast.

“The church provides assistance to the poor [and] money and medicine to the needy,” he explained. “I feel sorry that I can’t do more, because we cannot afford it.

“There are social problems too,” he continued. “For example, when the father in a family dies, there is no one in the family who can support the children or his widow. So, the church helps when it can, but too often there are not the necessary resources.”

Developing farming, the archbishop believes, is the key to stimulating the economy. And with the aid of various benefactors, including CNEWA and the Syrian Bank for Agriculture, he has progressed, albeit modestly.

“This is a poor region and it lacks water for farming,” the archbishop continued.

“So we dig commercial wells that can help the farmers in the area. We have five current well projects completed and one under way. They irrigate corn, wheat, olives, grapes, tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini during the main growing season. In the summer and winter, our main crop is carrots.”

Digging these wells is no small feat, explained the archbishop, who, with his staff of four, works directly with local farmers, ascertaining their needs. The task requires huge machines capable of drilling to the water level more than 700 feet deep, as well as engines to pump the water into storage lakes. The combined water drawn from these five wells irrigates only about 300 dounams (roughly 75 acres) of crops at a time, which accounts for a fraction of the hundreds of square miles of farmland that residents rely on for their livelihoods.

Under the guidance of Archbishop Boulos, the local church has helped one group of local farmers plant more than 800 apple and olive trees – which need little water – and supplied three tractors to help maintain these orchards. The venture employs more than 50 seasonal workers and supports the seven families who live on the orchards year-round.

Giving a tour of his development projects, the archbishop first stopped at the carrot farm a few miles from the rectory, where the harvest was under way. He parked alongside a huge muddy field, jumped out of his car and saluted the dozen or so workers dressed in traditional Arab clothing.

“Salaam Alaikum,” he said to the men and women busily washing carrots under a high-pressure water hose piped from one of the nearby wells. Each winter, the farm produces more than 4,400 tons of carrots for sale in Syria. The archbishop is still assessing the potential for greater profit from exporting the carrots to neighboring countries.

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Tags: Syria Melkite Greek Catholic Church Antiochene church Houran