SYRIA: Salesian teacher faces own hardship as she helps Salesian community rebuild in Aleppo
(MissionNewswire) Rania Salouji, a 40-year-old Christian and Salesian catechism teacher in Aleppo, has remained in her Syrian city through the outbreak of civil war that has devastated much of the country. Salouji and her husband Grigor have two children 17-year-old Michael and 14-year-old Hovik. They have remained in Aleppo and overcome fear to help contribute to the reconstruction, peace and hope in Syria’s largest northern city, once the country’s business capital.
Salouji’s family has faced much hardship in the city. Her husband was held captive for two months by an extremist group who specialized in abductions for ransom. “He went out to buy something but never came back,” she said. To find out what happened, she tried every channel, even traveling to Damascus.
“I do not know what it means to sit and wait. When my husband was abducted, I felt I had to move, act, work, do something. I did not want to show my children fear and anxiety about his fate. I felt I had to be strong for them,” explained Salouji.
She also faced great difficulty when a child who was attending catechism class was killed when a rocket landed a short distance from a group of young people who had just finished their lesson. “Sometimes when I look at the ground in front of the center, I still see the kid playing without a care in the world,” said Salouji.
Salouji is responsible for a group of catechists at the Salesian Center in Aleppo, which has recently resumed its activities after a long interruption due to the war. The Salesian Center has close to 900 children in its programs.
“When we reopened, I felt a strong emotion, mixed with fear,” said Salouji “There was concern for the health and safety of children, especially when they came to the center by car or when they went home after the activities. It was nice seeing them play together. Their life is full of stress, difficulties and in their homes, they certainly have no chance of playing freely.”
After years as a main battleground, Aleppo was liberated last December. Faced with the city’s tragedy, the Salesian church in Aleppo has launched a number of projects in the past few months, many of which successfully continue today. Salesian missionaries have been cleaning the city and helping young couples, providing food and money for electrical supplies as well as hosting summer camps for hundreds of children. Missionaries are also providing financial help for healthcare expenses and medicines, visits, exams and treatment. All these steps are for poor families in the region who might otherwise go without such assistance.
Since the outbreak of civil war, 7.3 million Syrians have been internally displaced within the country and more than 5.2 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 UN Refugee Agency (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. They are also subject to a lack of essential supplies and destroyed infrastructure that has closed schools and hospitals.
Salesian missionaries operate three centers in Syria. They are located in Kafroun and in the particularly high conflict areas of Aleppo and Damascus. Each of the centers is staffed by three Salesian priests and a deacon. The centers 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.
UNHCR – Syrian Refugee Response