New micro-projects centre in Damascus provides hope to Syria’s embattled Christians
The Christian Hope Centre a Syrian organization supported by the Catholic Church—has opened its first ever micro-projects program centre in the Syrian capital of Damascus. The program, which launched officially on July 22, will be the only micro-projects centre in the historic Christian quarter.
The program aims to provide families with funds to begin new business ventures or restart projects disrupted during the decade-long Syrian war. The centre operates under the spiritual direction of the Latin Bishop of Syria, Bishop Georges Abou Khazen.
The micro-projects program centre is based in Bab Touma, the historic Christian neighbourhood of Damascus, opposite the Melkite Catholic Cathedral, Our Lady of the Dormition*. There, workers and volunteers will assess applications submitted for support to restart businesses, typically in the form of equipment or training.
Stability for a Dignified Life
With a deepening economic crisis in Syria, many Christians say that today’s economic crisis is worse than the many years of war they have endured. Ninety percent of the Syrian population now lives below the poverty line. While Damascus is the administrative capital of the country, many Christians live in poverty, especially in the districts of Jaramana and Dwelaa. Both neighbourhoods house large populations of Christians who fled war in other parts of the country. The spiralling cost of rent, medicine, and food has left many households unable to cover their basic costs.
Christian families struggling with poverty will typically turn to the Church for support, which provides aid in the support of food packages, rent coverage, and tuition aid. Many Christians, however, say that while they are grateful for the emergency aid, they also want the stability of work to support their families.
In the context of many Christian families emigrating to pursue life in the West, this stability is what they say they need to lead a dignified life in their historic homeland. Although today Syria is more than 90% Muslim, as late as the 1920s it was 30% Christian. Damascus in particular has particular significance as one of the sites of the earliest Christian communities.
The new centre in Damascus is located meters from the Straight Road mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, where St. Paul had his sight healed by Ananias after his conversion on the road to Damascus.
Carla Audo, who works for Christian Hope Center, thanked the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International for their support for the program in Damascus: “We can help the families to start over, we give them a reason to stay, and a chance to build their country. I just want to thank supporters from ACN for their support and for their constant inspiration.”
Leaders of Christian Hope Center hope to replicate in the nation’s capital their success from earlier projects in Aleppo and Homs. These earlier projects have had a 78% success rate.
One local Christian able to successfully support his four family members in Aleppo as a result of a micro project is 25-year-old Johnny Sayegh. In 2013, his father was kidnapped and murdered by a Syrian militant group, leaving his mother and two siblings without a stable source of income. Born blind in one eye and left disabled after a workplace incident, he had more limited career options. However the Christian Hope Center was able to support him with a grant to purchase equipment for a coffee shop, which now provides income for both he and his family.
The new project in Damascus is supported by Aid to the Church in Need International and builds on the prior work of other international organizations to support Christian Hope Center in Syria (including Oeuvre d’Orient and Caritas Poland). ACN is an international pontifical charity that provides pastoral aid to the suffering or persecuted Church, especially in the Middle East.
Over the past 10 years, ACN has given around $50 million to provide pastoral and spiritual aid to Syria’s Christian population, to help combat the effects of discrimination, war, and poverty.
* The Dormition of the Mother of God is a Great Feast of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches which commemorates the “falling asleep” or death of Mary the Theotokos (“Mother of God,” literally translated as God-bearer), and her bodily resurrection before being taken up into heaven. Celebrated on the Sunday nearest to August 15 of every year, known in the West as the Assumption of Mary.