October 2018
aleppo rinasce

Our trip to Syria. Last stop: reconstruction in Aleppo amidst rubble and dust

Thick dust envelops the city of Aleppo, the last leg of our trip to Syria, so much to cover the sun. Sand and dust that – according to some – come from the east, from the debris, and make the air unbreathable, almost to want to suffocate again this city so painfully tormented and that now has resumed breathing.

In fact, life has returned to Aleppo, in many parts important reconstruction works are seen and some stores have reopened. Just as the ancient Citadel was recently reopened, the pride of the city once a popular destination for tourists from all over the world. Good news, because until recently this place was a military garrison: from this hill about fifty soldiers resisted the inexorable advance of the ISIS militiamen who had already invaded the eastern part of Aleppo and surrounded them from everywhere.

“If the Citadel fell, it would have been the end, because from here there are a series of underground tunnels that branch off throughout the city and arrive everywhere”. Yorgo tells us, as we climb the ancient ruins behind a row of children visiting the school; this is also something new these days. Yorgo is the technician responsible for coordinating projects for the distribution of food and medical packages, supported by ATS pro Terra Sancta in the parish of St. Francis in Aleppo in the Azizieh district. An activity that has helped many families in the hardest years of the conflict and that continues to support about 12,000 people every month.

Yorgo also benefited from one of the many ATS projects in Aleppo during these eight years of war. “I had lost everything – he tells us – we had no more water and very little food. I was told that at the parish of the Franciscans water was distributed from the wells, so I turned to them. My story began with the Franciscans and ATS began that day “. On that day Yorgo met with Fr. Ibrahim Alsabagh, the parish priest of the church of Saint Francis in Aleppo Azizieh, who asked him to follow the logistics of the ongoing projects. “He literally saved my life”, he tells us again, “before the war I had a chain of antiquities shops, I traveled all over the world to recover furniture and antiques, but from day to day I found myself without anything : they broke up the shops and robbed everything. I had no more work and my family and I were hungry.” Yorgo is truly grateful, as shown by his tireless availability and his great work. “Believe me without you, we Christians would not exist here anymore” he keeps on repeating.

Meanwhile we arrive at the walls of the citadel, covered with military posts made of jute bags and blankets and surrounded by metal bins, the ground still covered with a carpet of shells and mortar shells. It is not difficult to imagine the soldiers stationed here for two years without ever going out, supplied with food and ammunition from a helicopter once a month. But what impresses us the most is the view that comes to our eyes when we look out from one of the posts on the balustrade: on the horizon only rubble and still rubble. We watch them in silence, while the dust seems to really rise from there, from flats, from hotels and even destroyed mosques.

“It will take more than 20 years to rebuild this disaster,” Yorgo tells us. And it will take even longer to rebuild the rubble of a wounded humanity, the ones that every man, woman or child carries inside. Especially children, like the six-year-old Hani who attempted suicide a month ago. “There are more than fifty cases that we follow from children like him, suffering from childhood depression due to conflict”, explains Binan, psychologist and coordinator of the activities of Terra Sancta College, the Franciscan structure (supported by ATS pro Terra Sancta in collaboration with MISEREOR) that we visit in the afternoon. Here are offered various activities aimed at training, from play to psychological assistance for 250 children in need. “There is no such structure anywhere else in Aleppo, but I think not even in all of Syria,” continues Binan, “and I am grateful to be able to participate together with the friars in this important initiative especially at this time”.

ATS pro Terra Sancta in Aleppo supports many activities of reconstruction of buildings and houses, as well as those of assistance of this kind. In the days we spent here, we are really visiting a lot and in all we see an increasing hope in the future, in addition to the immense gratitude of all, which never fails.

Meanwhile, a few kilometers from here, in Idlib where the fugitive rebels are perched, the specter of war hovers insistently on the whole province. And even to the south of Aleppo, the spark of violent fighting comes on occasionally. “Nobody knows what will happen to Idlib – they comment – we do not know how it will end, there is always the fear that terror will return to Aleppo”.

Given the great reconstruction in progress, however, we understand that something has changed, even if the emergency is still there: those who lost everything do not regain it from one day to the next, as those who had no work and who could not get the food is still struggling to afford basic necessities. It will still take long before Aleppo can really finally rise above the dust, as before. Shuai Shuai … Inchallah, people say here: “slowly, if God wants”.

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