SYRIA: Salesian Programs Continue Providing Shelter and Education for Youth Despite Ongoing Violence
(MissionNewswire) The situation in Syria remains dire with new attacks and deadly fighting happening each day across the country. On February 21 alone, there were four explosions in the city of Damascus and two attacks in Homs and Aleppo has again become disputed territory between the army and various rebel factions. Over the course of the almost five years since the outbreak of civil war began in March 2011, Salesian missionaries have operated three centers in Kafroun and the particularly high conflict areas of Aleppo and Damascus.
Each of the centers is staffed by three Salesian priests and a deacon and have been in operation since well before the start of the war providing educational classes, meeting space and social development and sporting activities for youth and their families. The centers also offer trauma counseling, emergency shelter, nutritious meals and medical referrals to those in need.
“Salesian missionaries are trying to help youth and their families focus on normal life amid situations that are very challenging,” says Father Pier Jabloyan, Assistant Pastor at the Salesian center in Aleppo. “In such a situation youth have even greater need for socialization, entertainment and fraternity. They need a quiet place where they can play and talk with their peers and supportive adults. We try to provide that safe space where youth feel safe so they can learn, process their feelings and relax with their friends.”
Despite the ongoing violence, Salesian centers continue to meet the needs of their communities through the distribution of food, economic aid and scholarships to help young people continue with their schooling. Salesian missionaries have noted the absence of youth in the area as many have fled to safety in other areas of Syria and in neighboring countries.
“The country is increasingly exhausted and impoverished by the war and the consequences on the living conditions of the population have been devastating,” says Father Munir El Rai, Provincial of the Middle East who visited his home city of Aleppo in July 2015. “People are getting tired and exhausted at the moral, spiritual and material level. As well as the tragedy of death and destruction, every family is now faced with the drama of emigration, with people fleeing the country in search of a better life outside Syria. I have seen the suffering of the people who remain and the loneliness they feel for those who are gone.”
Since the outbreak of civil war, 7.3 million Syrians have been internally displaced within the country and 4.7 million registered Syrian refugees are in the neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq with a recent flood of refugees now seeking asylum in Europe, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Refugee camps in these bordering countries are overflowing with families in need of basic supplies, adequate shelter and safety as well as technical skills training so they can begin to earn a living in their new host countries. More than 6 million of those affected are children who have been put at risk of violence and are subject to a lack of essential supplies and destroyed infrastructure that has closed schools and hospitals.
In addition to Salesian centers within Syria, Salesian missionaries have been helping Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt since early 2012 assisting between 400 and 800 refugees each day, many of whom are women and children. At these refugee sites, missionaries provide emergency relief by meeting basic needs and providing shelter, safety and medical assistance. Missionaries also offer technical skills training to assist refugees in the task of finding stable employment in their new host countries which for many is particularly challenging due to labor laws and a lack of established social and professional networks.
Salesian missionaries seek to assist the most disadvantaged and vulnerable refugees, particularly those living outside of protected camps who take risks in order to support elderly parents, wives and children. Offering skills training, advocacy and counseling programs, Salesian centers provide safe spaces for vulnerable refugee families to find a sense of community and peace.
UNHCR – Syrian Refugee Response