CNA Staff, – Ahead of the 10th anniversary of the start of the Syrian war, the Catholic charity Caritas has launched a campaign to help children in Syria with much needed medical, humanitarian, and educational resources.
March 15 marks the grim anniversary of 10 years of war in Syria. The World Bank estimates that the country has suffered at least $197 billion worth of infrastructure damage during the conflict.
“Syrian children have known nothing but war,” Caritas Internationalis states on its website.
The charity’s “Tomorrow is in our hands” campaign seeks to bolster educational opportunities for Syrian children after the COVID-19 pandemic pushed 50% out of the education system.
An estimated 2.45 million Syrian children were already not attending school at the end of 2019, according to the charity. Now, 2 in 3 children in the country are out of school.
“The lack of access to education by Syrian children risks having a devastating impact on the future of the country. The education sector is in dire need of resources, and donors should fund interventions designed to lift families out of poverty,” it states.
Caritas is seeking to provide meals in line with international nutrition indicators for children at schools and to launch child oriented workshops to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases.
Eight in 10 people in Syria live below the poverty line with an estimated 11.1 million people in need of some form of humanitarian assistance, including 4.7 million people in acute need in 2020. Children, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and the elderly are the most at risk.
The Syrian conflict began when demonstrations sprang up across the country protesting the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president and leader the country’s Ba’ath Party. In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters.
The civil war has been fought among the Syrian regime and a number of rebel groups. The rebels include moderates, such as the Free Syrian Army; Islamists such as Tahrir al-Sham and the Islamic State; and Kurdish separatists.
Russia and Iran have been supportive of the Syrian regime, while western nations have favored some rebel groups.
Cardinal Mario Zenari, the Vatican’s diplomat in Syria for the past 13 years, has said that after nearly a decade of war, the Syrian people had now been hit with a “poverty bomb” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Fr. Firas Lutfi, a Franciscan priest who served as a missionary in Aleppo at the height of the violence, witnessed the trauma endured by a generation of Syrian children who have spent the entirety of their lives in the uncertainty and tragedy of war.
The Franciscan sought to create a place of safety and healing for these kids, many of whom were suffering from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress.
“We observed that the children, the Aleppian children, many had trauma, post-war. Lots of them lost parents, some of them had mutilation, losing hands or legs, and they are afraid of everything,” Fr. Lutfi told CNA in 2020.
Lutfi founded the Franciscan Care Center’s post-traumatic war treatment program in Aleppo in 2017. Since then, its staff of clinical psychologists, volunteers, and social workers have served 1,500 Syrian children aged 6-17 years old.
Many children born in Syria amid the bombings and chaos of the war never received a birth certificate because their birth was not registered with the government.
To give these forgotten children an identity, the Franciscans began the “Name and Future” project in Eastern Aleppo.
“We take care of these children, and we gave them an official registration … We have in each center 500 children,” Lutfi said.
Among those cared for by the Franciscans in the centers in Aleppo are abandoned young people with Down syndrome and autism, as well as pregnant mothers in need of assistance.
Pope Francis offered encouragement to charities seeking to rebuild Syria in a video message in December.
“Every effort — large or small — made to foster the peace process is like putting a brick in the construction of a just society, one that is open to welcome, and where all can find a place to dwell in peace,” Pope Francis said.
“My thoughts go especially to the people who have had to leave their homes to escape the horrors of war, in search of better living conditions for themselves and their loved ones,” he added.
According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, more than 5.6 million people have left Syria since 2011.
The majority of refugees stayed in the Middle East, with more than half registered as living in Turkey (3.6 million in 2021) and another 1.6 million refugees also living in either Lebanon or Jordan, which also border Syria.
Within Syria itself there are 6.7 internally displaced persons, according to Caritas.
“I appeal to the international community to make every effort to facilitate this return, guaranteeing the security and economic conditions necessary for this to happen. Every gesture, every effort in this direction is precious,” Pope Francis said.