ACN is Helping Syrian Families and Communities to Recover

Every military conflict forces population to live through some terrible experiences, particularly children, who are the most vulnerable group of the society there are scars that will never be erased – worries Father Halemba, the Middle East expert from Aid to the Church in Need.. Syria makes no exception. The war atrocities are far beyond human capacity to deal with; this is the reason why ACN decided to help those, who suffer spiritually and mentally. “The Good Samaritan workshops for post war trauma healing” in the Carmelite Sanctuary of the Holy Infant in Jounieh in Lebanon supported by ACN aim to assist Syrians dealing with posttraumatic reactions. “The time does not heal trauma – insists Fr. Halemba – this is why a person must be helped to express suffering and to confront bad memories. If we don’t help Syrian families and communities to recover, who will do it?”

By Irmina Nockiewicz

Local Churches, thanks to the international support, are playing a vital role in providing comprehensive relief services. Millions of people need humanitarian assistance, half of whom are children Christians in Syria are doing a great peace of good job. Church charitable aid projects are varying from subsistence aid, which is still number 1 in the agenda, to reconstruction and development. Many of them, such as scholarships for pupils and students or the “drop of milk” for babies and toddlers, aim particularly to help children, who are the most vulnerable group of the society. They are the most at risk ” – worries Father Andrzej Halemba, head of the Middle East Section of the Catholic Charity and Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) – as they face threats of being locally maimed by fighting, or emotionally scarred by all possible abuses including rapes, forced marriages, slavery work, food scarcity and minimal access to health or education. All of those efforts are but a drop in the ocean of material needs and still there are other necessities, which can’t be easily translated into statistics, therefore often ignored. Spiritual and psychological sufferings desperately need to be addressed.

As every conflict, the war in Syria forces population to live through some terrible experiences. In a constant stressful state of mind when deployed, the brain begins to function differently. Long-term exposure to war and post-war stressors cause serious psychological consequences, with PTSD being only one of the disorders in the wide spectrum of post-traumatic reactions. Fr. Halemba, Middle East expert for ACN clarifies: “It is universally true that horrific experiences are so deeply disturbing that they might even be overwhelming, especially for children. The trauma caused by the war implies dramatic behavioural changes leading to the relationship problems, violence and other mental disorders. After all, a serious upsurge of post-conflict trauma was to be expected and this is what I hear about and witness when travelling to Syria.”.


A report by Unicef found 2017 was the worst year of the war for young Syrians, with 910 killed. Children in Syria have been present at events far beyond their capacity to deal with. According to Unicef most of children had experienced shelling nearby, they are hunted by sorrow, extreme nightmares, and daily intrusive flashbacks of the traumatic events, fear, insecurity and bitterness. Around 50 per cent had been shot at by snipers, and 66 per cent had been in a situation where they thought they would die. Almost one child in four has been wounded in the conflict. The number of orphans has greatly increased. So called “lost generation” of those, who are below 15 years old, have never been to school and are illiterate. Those young more easily turn to aggression and delinquency, many of them are in a state of depression and attempt suicide. Child deaths soaring by 50% last year and the number of young soldiers tripling since 2015. ACN do it’s best to encourage projects, which offer to children and youth an opportunity to change a landscape literally and mentally and sponsors: spiritual summer camps, family retreat, summer clubs programs, regional youth days etc. For many of them it is for the first time in their life.

The time does not heal trauma. – insists Fr. Halemba – This is why a person must be helped to express suffering and to confront bad memories. If we don’t help them who will do it?” – asks rhetorically the priest and continuous: “For this reason Aid to the Church in Need launches a new project to support and guide towards healing persons with psychological suffering and children in particular. Most of people in Syria have no chance to undergo any treatment at all, because of the short supply and skyrocketing prices of medical services. We help with that, but it’s not enough. Syrian Christians were suffering for far too long.” In order to help them on the road to recovery, ACN in cooperation with local Church partners and invited professionals would like to offer a “Good Samaritan therapy sessions”. It is not one event initiative, but rather a long-standing process started on Monday, 8.10.2018 with this session, comprising weekly follow-up meetings combined with the individual assistance and reinforced with the refreshment sessions. The first session addressed to the clergy and professionals, who will run the project. “The Good Samaritan course for trauma healing take place in the Carmelite Sanctuary of Infant Jesus in Jounieh, in Lebanon (8-23 October 2018). ACN Middle East projects coordinator, Fr. Halemba highlights that “every culture has its own way of dealing with traumatic experiences, but in all cultures, one of the most important factors is the cohesion of the family and community. Therefore, the trauma healing will include people who were exposed to serious war and posttraumatic war events, as well as those who were not directly exposed to war destruction and material losses, but experienced war indirectly, through military drafting of their family members and friends. S.O.S.(save our souls) call from Syria sounds strong, as there are scars that will never be erased.

“The Good Samaritan trauma healing project” is another initiative of the Catholic Charity and Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) supporting the local Churches in helping suffering Syrians. Since the beginning of the war, which lasts for the 8th year now, Syria received from ACN benefactors more than 28 million euros. In addition to the therapeutic effect, ACN hopes that the study on trauma exposure and posttraumatic stress disorder made on this occasion on the participants together with some demographic data will be indicative to determine further strategy and to break ground for humanitarian organisations specialised in this field, ACN hopes for Syrians.


“The war in the North of Syria is not losing steam. During the first months of 2018 there has been an escalation in violence in eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus, in Idlib and in Afrin on the Turkish border. Jabhat al-Nusra was defeated in around Deraa, the southern region, but in September, warplanes resumed their bombing campaign in the northern region of Idlib, the last rebel enclave in Syria. A full-scale offensive in Idlib threatens with a new humanitarian disaster.”– Father Halmba warns.

Already an intense bombardment in Deraa region has forced another 160.000 people to flee, reports the United Nations Organisation (UN). “Figures speak for themselves. There is not only a strong internal dimension to the war in Syria, it is a proxy war  – explains Fr. Halemba, ACN – and it requires an international peace solution” According to the UN more than 13 million people inside Syria need humanitarian assistance, half of whom are children, who are the most at risk. Economic sanctions only worsen the situation, and in contrary to the declared goal, punish the civil society by limiting even humanitarian activity in the country, where 6,6 million people have been internally displaced, and nearly 3 million are in hard-to-reach and besieged areas.