12 June 2017
Thanks to the local staff on the ground, JRS can properly and efficiently meet the needs of refugees and those in conflict situations. In Syria, one of our local staff members, Ahmed, helped to establish some of JRS’ largest ongoing projects in the country.
Rome, 12 June 2017 - When the crisis started in 2012, I decided I needed to do something. I wanted to help others and I decided that I couldn’t stand by and not to do anything when people were fleeing bombs. To create Aleppo Family Volunteers, we brought together a diverse group of young people who pulled their various skills to help internally displaced persons (IDPs) and others affected by the conflict.
When Hama was under siege, we were there bringing in relief items. When Homs was under attack, we sent insulin, mattresses, blankets, and other aid to those affected. Together, we collected and distributed emergency supplies.
One of us, a Jesuit priest, offered up space in a Jesuit centre in Aleppo. With hundreds of newly arrived IDPs mostly from Homs, the organization started to help them find housing, amenities, and jobs. We housed over 150 families and conducted home visits with them offering food, medicine, psychosocial support, employment help, and more.
After a couple of months, The Aleppo Family became the main registration point for all IDPs coming from Idleb, Der Alzoor, and rural Aleppo.
With the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and other local NGOS on the ground, we managed to coordinate our services to meet the needs of the IDPs. The Jesuit centre was used as a temporary shelter for many families until we could find them more permanent housing.
In 2012 during the summertime, the third day of Ramadan, there were hundreds of people fleeing East Aleppo to a park in West Aleppo. There, we bought and distributed food but soon realized that this system was unsustainable. We got approval to host the IDPs in a school nearby, and with a single post on Facebook, we found hundreds of volunteers to clean and prepare the schools to be shelters. Many in the local community donated cash and in-kind donations to help all the newly arrived families.
Given the Aleppo Family’s diversity and size, we quickly gathered money and supplies to continue to provide support and relief for the IDPs. At the schools, we started to cook our own meals. Eventually, we were managing 11 schools with kitchens that were later inherited by JRS.
In schools, psychosocial support, education, health care, and recreational activities for children were provided. With an ever-increasing number of beneficiaries, we decided to move the kitchen to a nearby tennis court to be able to provide enough food. This was the first JRS field kitchen in Syria.
We always made sure to provide the best possible services despite the high number of people. We ate in the field kitchens to make ensure the quality of the food. We set up our clothes distributions like a shop to provide a sense of normalcy and dignity.
A few months into our work, we began working and collaborating with JRS. Shortly after, there was an increase in bombings. We lost supplies and the Jesuit centre was destroyed, forcing us to move to safer areas. With JRS we managed to expand our operations to assist 12,000 families and serve 20,000 cooked meals per day. A clinic as well as educational and psychosocial centres were launched to support and help all the registered families.
Towards the end of 2013, I had to leave Syria and went to Lebanon where I continued to work largely on grants for JRS’ projects in Syria. I also worked with donors, explaining the real needs on the ground.
For two and a half years I continued to manage and support JRS operations in Syria via Skype, remaining as close as I could to the Syrian people and helping them as best as possible.
Put yourself in the refugees’ situation. I always try to imagine: what if I had to flee? How would I want to be served?