Aleppo’s canteen: an answer to the food crisis
The Syrian people are suffering hunger. For a long time, and even longer today. The economic crisis, also due to sanctions, is dramatic, diesel is now nowhere to be found, electricity is available three hours a day and youth unemployment stands at 78%.
According to the World Food Programme (WFP) of the United Nations, food prices have risen 800% in the last two years, even exceeding inflation in 2013.
The alarming data
90% of the population lives below the poverty line and an estimated 9.3 million people are food insecure. Entire families have ended up on the breadline as a result of the devaluation of the Syrian currency on the market and today even those who work two jobs are unable to feed their families for the entire month.
Winter is just around the corner and it is scary. Many families are living without heating because the electric generator runs on petrol, which is unaffordable, and in the capital, electricity is guaranteed from 9 to 10 a.m., from 12 to 1 p.m. and at 1 a.m.
In all 14 governorates of Syria, the price of the food basket has increased by an average of 107 per cent compared to the same period last year.
The Director General of Pro Terra Sancta, Tommaso Saltini, and the head of the project office, Giacomo Gentile, returned yesterday from a two-week mission in Syria. They tell us of desperate men and women who do not know whether their children will eat tomorrow. The general atmosphere is one of depression and malaise; there is a lack of courage and desire to rebuild the country.
It is humanitarian aid that saves the lives of millions of people in Syria. That is why we have been supporting the canteen at St Francis Parish in Aleppo for a year, a canteen accessible to the poorest and most vulnerable people.
The canteen is run by Father Bahjat Karakah and every day almost 50 staff and volunteers prepare hot meals for at least 1,000 people.
The aim of the canteen is to try as far as possible to respond to the problem of hunger and malnutrition. Those who come to the canteen are mainly elderly, disabled, sick, widows and families from the poorest districts of Aleppo.
Stories from the canteen in Aleppo
Boutros Kahla is 71 years old and his meagre salary as a taxi driver must suffice for the needs of the whole family. His daughter Samar has a mental illness that requires special care and visits. Food, water, bills and medicine have become a luxury that Boutros and his family can no longer afford.
The hot meal offered by the parish canteen eases the burden of daily food expenses and is a ray of hope for the Kahla family and many others, like Sophia Jabas.
Sophia is a 61-year-old woman who has been fighting breast cancer for five years. She is unmarried and lives alone in Aleppo. The disease prevents her from working and in state hospitals the medical costs are not fully covered by the government. She has to pay for part of the mastectomy and chemo treatment. The cost for treatment is on top of those for food and bills Unbearable costs already for someone who has two jobs! Because of the disease she finds it very difficult to go out. This is why every day a group of volunteers from the canteen bring her a hot meal at home.
Tommaso and Giacomo also met Bassil Syoufi, his wife and their two small daughters. Bassil has a physical disability in his hands and feet that prevents him from exerting himself and working away from home. Finding a job is extremely difficult for him. His wife looks after the girls at home and the canteen is the only place that guarantees them a daily meal.
In a country where you can buy as many loaves of bread as you have family members, Bassil and many Syrian families have started to give up one meal a day.
While it is true that the bombs no longer fall on Aleppo, the drama of the Syrians continues unabated.
The presence of the canteen in the parish of Aleppo truly makes the difference between life and death.