“You have done it unto me”: the witness of Fr. Firas Lutfi from Aleppo
Instead of studying and playing, learning art and music, Syrian children have lost all means for normal and dignified growth due to the war. Instead of having fun and playing, they have to shut themselves up in their homes for fear of going out because death or mutilation awaits them both outside and inside the house. Fear and stress, suffering from hunger and thirst, the loss of a relative or school friend. Yet we are born to live and to enjoy life and to rejoice. In Syria, the number of deaths among civilians, children and women, has exceeded 500,000 people since the conflict broke out 8 years ago, it is truly scandalous. In front of hunger, fightings, and the drama of the suffering of the innocents, it is not enough to ask ourselves “why?” , but I ask myself “how” could I make them stop and do no more harm; what I can do in front of all this.
I also asked myself several questions about the war: why should my country and my people suffer? Why do the innocent have to pay the dirty game of the “powerful”? Who is responsible for the evil that destroys the cradle of humanity and our unique cultural heritage? Who has the strength and responsibility to stop this tsunami of deaths and destruction? Who can to heal the incurable wounds of a whole generation?
When the bombing intensified on the city of Aleppo and the bombs fell like rain, it was not enough to ask so many why, but how to intervene to rescue and save the skin of people.
Hundreds of children were born during the war in the area of Aleppo East, the most affected part of the city. No one recognizes the existence of these because they are considered children of terrorists (the result of a bad seed that should be eliminated!). They exist physically, but are not recognized at the registry office. Many have remained mutilated and disfigured. Many left orphans living with their grandparents or minors who have to look after their even younger brothers.
To tell the truth, I didn’t know where to start. The complexity of the drama around me exceeds my strength. Both are my tasks how high and heavy the needs that are needed.
Together with my friend Dr. Binan, one of the few psychologists left in Aleppo, we studied the first project called “therapeutic art” in the Franciscan Care Center; a means to treat the most hidden traumas and wounds, through art, music, sport, theater and intellectual activities. This center is designed as a response to the psychological emergence of children suffering from severe discomfort and stress born within a very complex and tragic context. Therefore, not a classic psychological treatment, but to give space to the development of sports and artistic talents. It is a cure through beauty. Alongside a structure made available for various activities for this purpose, three playing fields (two of football and one of basketball) were created. In addition, a swimming pool that helps children enjoy themselves and promote talent. The number of children registered on the first day of opening, from 7-17 years, is 500. After one year, the number of people who attended our center is more than 2000. In this summer we plan to do a summer school for 3 hours a day with various activities, especially sports, for over 600 children.
The spaces of our convent are at the service of the Christian community. They are essentially used to welcome the hundreds of families left in the martyr city of Aleppo. During the summer, every day hundreds of people attend the college every day because there are no other possibilities.
There are different activities that take place in these centers. Activities for children are: registration of those without identity, teaching recovery courses for those who have lost school for years, psychological support activities, physiotherapy and speech therapy for disabled and war mutilated, etc. The project also welcomes widowed and jobless women. In addition to psychological support, there are different attitudes to support and help these mothers to guard and protect their children. The numbers of recipients in the two centers exceed one thousand, and there are hundreds of them waiting.
I would like to reiterate that all that has been achieved is not because I am a hero or driven by the desire to do. The real reason that prompted me to react to the drama is how I can “be close” to those who suffer, regardless of the endless questions about the reasons for suffering. I am very convinced of the proverb that says: “Instead of cursing the darkness, you light a lamp!” Finally, we must not always think about making big moves or projects to help: charity is not measured in quantity but in quality. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said “the ocean is made up of many drops, but without this drop the ocean would not be the same”!