Destruction in Aleppo. Flickr

Saving the children of Aleppo, at risk of becoming a ‘lost’ generation

More than 150 young people, aged 6 to 13, are taking after-school courses organised by the city’s Latin parish. For Fr Ibrahim, they are "the most fragile and need all kind of help”. Many of them are “difficult” cases.

This school year (2017-2018), the Latin Parish of Aleppo is helping more than 150 children, aged 6 to 13, to “recover psychologically, educationally, and spiritually" through after school activities. The goal is to "rebuild bonds and heal deep wounds" caused by years of brutal war, said Fr Ibrahim Alsabagh OFM, 44, said.

Young people in Aleppo, once Syria’s economic and commercial capital, show signs of mental troubles, learning disabilities, and trauma-related problems. But "This is one of the best projects in the fields of education and assistance to the young victims of the conflict,” said the Franciscan clergyman, who is also the local parish priest.

In the war-torn country, teachers and educators have a hard time providing education and support to all the students, and there is a real risk that the young will be condemned to become a “lost” generation”.

In light of the hardships teachers and many parents face, the local Church has decided – albeit amid a thousand and one obstacles – to offer learning and rehabilitation programmes in accordance with the teachings and spirituality of Saint John Bosco.

"With the help of many people of good will, we started with more than 150 primary age boys and girls (out of a total of 600), the most affected by the war,” Fr Ibrahim explained. “They are the most fragile and need all kind of help.”

Some "resisted" at first, the clergyman noted, but with 65 educators, teachers, and specialists from different fields "we managed to get the project off the ground and already today we see the first miracles."

Still, "It was hard to deal with some youth, 15 to be precise, because they were restless and refused to respond to our attempts to reach out to them.”

Milad is one of the kids. At night, he can still wake up from the same nightmare, a rocket exploding near his home. Three years ago, his father was maimed by a mortar shell.

"My dad cannot see any more because he lost his eyesight,” the boy said. “He beats me every day because he is angry, but I forgive him because I know that he is suffering. Instead of hands and legs he has prosthetics. He drinks every day to forget and ask the Lord to take him.”

Maher, 12, loves playing football with his friends and dreams of meeting Barcelona’s Argentine striker Messi. He made a football out of paper he picked up so that he can play with his friends. But playing in the street is very dangerous. "Maher can’t read nor count,” Fr Ibrahim said.

"We would like to help thousands of children and young people in Aleppo who need care, but it’s a huge task,” he said. “The after-school programme costs US$ 85 a month per child, a lot of money for this place, but rehabilitating a young life is worth infinitely more.”

In Aleppo the Church is providing basic rights: the right to heal, the right to have one’s wounds tended, the right to have some relief in an oasis of love and tenderness.

"We have created some space for children to dream, to rebuild amid the ruins. Every day, starting at 3 pm, the children can attend important courses – mathematics, Arabic, French, English – taught by competent teachers. We are already seeing some improvement in their results. Afterwards there is time to play, draw, do sports, dance or listen to music, as they wish.”

In the past few years, the Church in Aleppo has undertaken several projects of support and help for the residents who have been through war and violence.

Many of these have been successful and are still ongoing, from cleaning the city to helping young married couples, from providing families with food parcels to helping them pay electricity bills. Church-run summer camps have been organised for hundreds of children, and financial aid has been made to cover the costs of health treatment, medical drugs, visits, tests, and treatments.

Many people in Aleppo, which was a major battleground in Syria’s civil war until it was liberated in December 2016, cannot afford on their own many of these initiatives for the needy.