“Children are the future. We would like to help them so that they can grow up healthy, even if they have lost the innocence of childhood through the war.”
By Josué Villalón
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has approved 225000 euros for the project “A Drop of Milk”. Through this project, milk is passed out to 2850 children in Aleppo each month. A small delegation from Aid to the Church in Need was recently there when the milk was distributed to families. The participants talk about how thankful the people are.
Carrying their children in their arms, a number of parents gathered in a cul-de-sac in Al- Zizieh, an inner-city district of Aleppo. They came from the rented flats in which they live as displaced persons. However, this was not an impromptu gathering. Rather, they came to collect a basic foodstuff that ensures that life in the city can continue: milk for their children.
Ziad Sahin, who coordinates the distribution of this desperately needed aid, stands at the door of a small restaurant. “I worked in a multinational company that produced milk for children, of all things. But I lost my job because our factory and office buildings were hit by bombs. I like to help people. Because I feel good when I do something for others, especially for those who have suffered most from the war.” He explains that he took on this task because, as a father himself, he finds it very important to help children.
Elias came with his almost two-year-old son Michel. The little boy wriggles around the legs of his father. Elias never fails to come here once a month to receive his share of milk powder. “I would like to thank all the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need. It is very difficult to get milk on the market. And it is very expensive. If we were not able to take part in the project “A Drop of Milk”, there would be no way we could get milk,” the young man says with a smile. He affirms that he never lost his faith, in spite of all the difficulties. “We often go to church. I pray to God that peace will soon prevail in our country.”
Josef Izza stands next to him. He is also one of the 1500 families who receive support each month. His daughter Rosemeri smiles and attentively listens to the conversation. “We think of God every day. The faith is very important to us. We believe in God even more now. We see the hand of God in our lives, before and after the war,” Josef says. “The fighting ended in the city of Aleppo six months ago. However, even though there are no more missile strikes, the effects of the war are everywhere.”
The project “A Drop of Milk” supplies all Christian children in Aleppo under the age of 10 with milk. “The Christian community was especially hard hit by the war. Before the war, 150 000 Christians lived in Aleppo. Now we are just under 35 000,” Dr Nabil Antaki reports, who got the project underway in 2015. The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need has guaranteed financing until June 2018. “This is a very generous gesture. We are very happy,” the gastroenterologist says. He remained in Aleppo to help those most in need of help, even though he has Canadian citizenship and could easily have emigrated.
If a family would have to pay for the milk themselves, they would use up almost all of their income. A tin of milk costs 3000 Syrian pounds, about 5 euros. This may not be a lot, but the average income is 30000 Syrian pounds, or around 50 euros, an amount that makes it impossible to cover all expenses. Not to mention that most inhabitants are affected by unemployment. Rana Aftim has just picked up her milk ration for her one-and-a-half-year-old son Mario. “Thank you for your help. Milk is very expensive. We are not even earning enough to pay the rent for our flat.” Talia is the oldest of the children who came here today. She is six years old. She loves to play with her sister and draw. Her father Basil Yousef has brought a bag to pick up his monthly ration. “We are very happy that we are receiving this support. It is a help for us, who have suffered so much. And now we have to rebuild our houses and our lives.”
The need is growing. Although this is a challenge, it is also a sign of hope. “Last month we registered 120 new children. This means that the families are returning to Aleppo – there cannot have been so many births in such a short period of time,” Dr Antaki explains. When the people return and experience support, it can be assumed that there is a still a chance for the Christians in Aleppo. Nabil Antaki says that helping the children is something that is very important to the families and for the decimated Christian community. “Children are the future. We would like to help them so that they can grow up healthy, even if they have lost the innocence of childhood through the war.”
Since the beginning of the war in 2011, Aid to the Church in Need has supported the Christians in Syria with around 500 projects and more than 18 million euros.