The Hope of Syria

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul reaches out to survivors of a brutal war

by Joseph Ahmar Dakno

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Editors’ note: For nearly a decade, war has devastated much of Syria. Some of the fiercest fighting was fought in Aleppo, Syria’s economic capital, once home to some three million people and a flourishing and diverse Christian community. For much of the war, the city was divided. Rebels occupied a portion of eastern Aleppo — including its ancient and historic center — with some 300,000 remaining citizens. The Syrian army controlled a larger portion of the city, home to an estimated 1.5 million inhabitants, many of whom were Christian. Into this arena stepped the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the oldest charitable organization in Syria. We asked the head of the Aleppo section of this lay international Catholic charity, Joseph Ahmar Dakno, to describe some of its work to bring light and life to a place too often shrouded in darkness and death.

Aleppo was a city under siege. For nearly four years, access to basic needs was almost impossible. The only road linking Aleppo to the rest of the country wound through the desert, exposing travelers to extremist groups which controlled the area. People lived in fear of shells falling on them and their children. Adding to the fear was economic hardship. The prices of goods and food increased as incomes fell, unemployment rose and the economy collapsed.

Nevertheless, through its charities, institutions and nongovernmental organizations, the Christian community played an invaluable role in helping Aleppines cope with the horrors of war.

The volunteers of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul dedicated themselves to helping the wounded and transporting them to hospitals. People whose residences were destroyed — innocent families who found themselves suddenly homeless — were offered safe places, along with moral and spiritual support.

Local parishes and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul have tried to help the wounded in a number of ways: facilitating the hospitalization process, locating dispensaries for treatment and providing medical supplies to ensure the wounded may recover fully. In addition, representatives of local parish groups of the society were present to support the most critical cases, including those victims who had lost hands or legs. They have provided prostheses for the patients along with the rehabilitative help of physiotherapists, so they may return to their lives and cope with their new situation. This social and humanitarian work requires great effort and coordination, significant funding, strong will and psychological encouragement.

And the crisis is far from over. Fears of high rates of unemployment continue to spread through the region. People have tried to find alternative jobs and adapt to the new life to secure a decent living for themselves and their families. St. Vincent de Paul has rushed to visit these families to listen to their fears and to help alleviate them. We have worked to help people find work even as we support them with physical, medical and education assistance. We coordinate this always with local clergy — bishops and priests — who have also been with them to offer spiritual help and support.

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