SYRIA: Youth find support through war, earthquakes
Don Bosco House in Aleppo provides refuge for youth
(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries in Aleppo, Syria,* continue to support local youth after the country’s 12 years of civil war and in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck southern Turkey and northern Syria in February 2023.
In the immediate aftermath, Salesians opened the doors to Don Bosco House, and hundreds of people found security, companionship and relief. Five months after the earthquake, Father Alejandro León, superior of the Salesian Adolescent Jesus Province of the Middle East, reflected on what he experienced and what the country continues to need, as well as extended his gratitude for all those who have provided support.
Fr. León said, “One sentence I heard made me think. I entered a formation meeting with a group of teenagers aged 15-16. I don’t know what topic they were discussing, but one girl said, ‘Here we were taught to see the glass half full, rather than half empty, but the problem is that our glass is not only empty, it’s really broken.’ The sentence may seem to be exaggerated, or an outburst after the experience of the earthquake. However, I do not share this, but there is something in it that makes me reflect and empathize with the existential situation of these young people.”
Fr. León noted everything these youth have been through in their young lives. “They are young people who have no recollection of life without war. They have lived for years without electricity, without water, with scarcity of food and fuel. They have lived in a besieged city and have feared attacks with chemical weapons or missiles. They all mourn a family member who died during the war and live in constant economic depression. They have experienced cholera epidemics and the COVID-19 epidemic. What now? A large earthquake and other earthquakes, at least four, that exceeded 6 on the Richter scale.”
It was 4:17 a.m. on Feb. 6 when the earth shook. Immediately, the courtyard of Don Boco House filled with people seeking safety. There was anxiety and uncertainty. Father Mario Murru, rector, assured them from the outset that the Salesian house would be open for all those who needed it. At lunchtime, there were already 50 people in the house, and by dinner, there were 300. This number grew steadily in the following days to reach 500 people. On Feb. 21 another strong earthquake renewed fear, and 800 people found shelter at Don Bosco House.
Youth in the region had been attending programs at Don Bosco House for years. They were involved in youth camps and were familiar with the Salesians. Through their own training, they were natural leaders in the emergency, helping their families and neighbors. Fr. Murru said, “It was moving to see the respect that the adults paid to young people. Not because they were designated authorities, but because of the moral authority acquired through their generous service.”
He added, “Love has made us overcome barriers that none of us could have imagined. For the love of children, for the love of parents, for the love of friends, for the love of God. At a time when there was no reason to hope for anything, they found people to fight for with hope and everyone, rich and poor, became needy and shared what they had.”
Almost 2.4 million euro was raised by Salesians around the globe for emergency projects in the aftermath of the earthquake. In June, most of those emergency projects concluded to make room for reconstruction, educational projects, and summer camps for children and older youth affected by the earthquake.
Salesian missionaries operate three centers in Kafroun and the particularly high-conflict areas of Aleppo and Damascus. Throughout the ongoing war and struggles in the country, 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.
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Salesian Missions – Syria
*Any goods, services or funds provided by Salesian Missions to programs located in this country were administered in compliance with applicable laws and regulations, including sanctions administered by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control.