Syria: Caring for Children Living in Fear
Tens of thousands of Syrians were helped by Open Doors in 2013 with food, medicines, shelter, trauma training and spiritual support. Together with Hanna, a pastor’s wife living in the Syrian capital of Damascus, Open Doors looks back on the emergency aid which was distributed through her church and other churches and Christians partners. Hanna, who has two daughters, has been writing about the situation in war-torn Syria for the last year and a half.
How are things going at the moment?
“I had never actually seen the blood and dead bodies of victims of the war until yesterday. The mortar grenades are now landing in our street, too. They even struck the bottom of the block of flats where we live. The mortar fire causes so much fear. You’ll never forget it for the rest of your life. We’re still doing the usual things. We take our children to school and try to work. We can’t just sit at home doing nothing. We often hear mortar fire farther away, but when it comes closer, we sometimes stay in doors for two or three days. After that, we get on with things again. It’s an awful life, but what else can we do?”
How do you and your family manage to keep going?
“One moment when I knew for certain that I had to be here was after grenades had landed on a school in the neighborhood here. After the mortar attack, we brought the children from that school to the church. I saw nothing but deathly pale little faces arrayed in front of me. I began to tell them about the Lord God and that He is good whatever happens. We talked for a bit, and slowly but surely I saw the color and glow coming back into their faces. At a moment like that, I know again what my job is here: to care for the children. But sometimes I wonder, ‘Have I gone mad? What am I still doing here?'”
Plenty of Syrians must frequently be asking themselves that question. How do you deal with this?
“During the first year of the war, no one thought of leaving. But now, after more than three years, many people are going away. Young married couples don’t see any future here for their children. There’s no hope anymore; only death. If I’m honest, I sometimes think about going far away, too. I don’t want my daughters to grow up here. But if you look into the depths of my heart, you’ll see that I hate the idea of having to leave Syria. The future is so dark. It’s a struggle…a struggle…a constant struggle. We see that the people who are supposed to protect us are not doing so. So many negative things are being sown in the hearts of people. We ask in prayer, ‘Lord, when are You coming back?’ I pray that God will make it clear what we should do.”
*8,000 Emergency Aid Packages Delivered
Every month in 2013, about 8,000 Syrian families were given emergency aid packages of food and medicines by Open Doors. In March of last year, the emergency aid was increased; even more was needed. In some places, the content of the packages was slightly reduced, so that ultimately more families could be helped.
Egypt: Project Helps Christian Widows, Orphans
Shalabia (not her real name) was widowed in her 20’s, left with three toddlers and no source of income. Like many young widows in Upper Egypt, she had married young with no education or skills.
Her rural Christian family was already living on a hand-to-mouth basis, so they could not really support her after her husband died.
During her outings to the local market on Fridays, Shalabia was pressured and lured by Muslim men who pushed the young, attractive widow to leave her faith and marry them. They promised her money and a decent life for herself and her three children, if she would convert to Islam.
The villagers knew what a stigma she lived under in their traditional society, where as a Christian she already suffered second-class status. And now that she was a widow, other women ignored and avoided her, considering her “bad luck.” But worse, men eyed her as an “easy prey” for their unwanted attentions.
So becoming a Christian widow at her age was more than a struggle for Shalabiait was a daily suffering.
Shalabia resisted the men’s advances, but the mounting pressures from all sides began to take a toll on her. She began to cry out to the Lord for hope and a future for her hungry children.
And then a friend from her church told her about “Marketplace Skills for Widows,” a church-sponsored project now helping 85 young widows and their families to start new lives in their rural settings.
First the project team came to assess Shalabia’s skills and aptitudes, which could be developed to help her start a sustainable income-raising project; whether raising poultry and sheep, learning hairdressing, making soap, creating simple accessories, setting up a small shop or selling sweets.
Then the team helped her do a feasibility plan for the project that best fit her situationturning a spare room in her simple house into a shop to sell household items to her neighbors. She was provided with the starting capital needed, in monthly installments for the first year, until she could continue on her own.
Through monthly follow-up visits, Shalabia gained more techniques and knowledge, and then participated in group meetings with other Christian widows who were also gaining hope and financial independence through similar projects.
“I thank the Lord of widows and orphans every day for saving me and my children, and providing for us in a way that kept our dignity and faith,” Shalabia says.
The widows participating in the project meet twice a year to share their experiences with each other, as well to pray and worship together.
“I used to have sleepless nights because of the pressures on my widowed young daughter from Muslim men to marry them,” one rural Christian mother admitted, before her daughter was introduced to the project.
“This program has transformed these widows from a financial burden on the church into independent women who witness to their communities!” explained one enthusiastic pastor.
Another 40 widows are expected to join the Marketplace Skills project by the end of 2014.