28 March 2019
On the road outside Rableh, Syria, visitors see the extent of the damage from years of war.
We received the following report a few days ago from our regional director in Beirut, Lebanon, Michel Constantin:
To better assess and evaluate the current situation in Syria — now that the regime’s forces have regained control of more than 75 percent of the country and secured the major cities and rural areas — CNEWA-Pontifical Mission visited our partners so as to touch base with the beneficiaries of our aid and the volunteers who are work on behalf of the church.
Our plan was to visit three areas: the capital of Damascus; the central city of Homs and Tartus on the coast; and finally, Aleppo, where we were asked to participate in a special synod of the churches organized locally to discuss the challenges facing the Christian community there, once the largest Christian community in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, the visit to Aleppo was canceled for security reasons. On the same day we were scheduled to travel there, heavy shelling targeted downtown Aleppo. Nevertheless, we were able to follow the work of the meetings and we were updated on the findings and recommendations.
What follows are our impressions and findings:
Military attacks continue to decrease, especially since the areas under the opposition or the extremists are now very restricted to one area in the northwest of the country (Edlib and the surrounding area, controlled by the extremist militia of Al Nusra) and the northeast (east of the Euphrates River under the Kurdish militias supported mainly by the United States). However, this stability should not be confused with long-term peace, which some question as doubtful. Some observers fear fragmentation and the ethnic cleansing of areas that fall either to government or Kurdish control. This could spin out of control, for example, should both parties face each other in battle around Deir Ezzor. This is particularly dangerous, as each side is backed by different outside powers.
The territorial defeat of ISIS does not mean it will cease to exist. Rather, it is likely to adapt its strategy, continue underground, and use more guerrilla and terrorist tactics. The problem in Syria is not just ISIS, but the lack of inclusive governance and equal opportunities in the country. These are the root causes that enabled ISIS to grow. The organization is not a cause but a consequence of the underlying political situation. As a result, the defeat of ISIS will not lead to the end of the conflict in Syria. If the root causes are not addressed, the conflict is likely to continue. In addition, new conflicts and new extremist groups might arise.
On the other hand, in the aftermath of the war and with the absence of a clear and united opposition, any political process without a clear strategy carries risks. A power vacuum — or political, ethnic or sectarian tensions — could become a source of renewed conflict, which may lead to the further destabilization of the region.
Socially and economically, the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria — and the resulting rupture of socioeconomic ties inflicted on the nation’s economy — has seriously damaged the infrastructure. It has reversed or significantly slowed not only the development of Syria itself, but also of its neighbors — first of all Lebanon and Jordan — as well as Turkey. This has exacerbated the situation in these states and has created new risks.
The streets of Homs are showing signs of life. (photo: CNEWA)
Conditions need to be created for the return of refugees and the restoration of life-support systems. These can bring not only humanitarian or economic dividends, but also political and strategic ones. But despite the improvement of the security situation in many areas, international experience shows that the absence of fighting is rarely the trigger for return of the displaced people. Numerous other factors are involved. These include:
Loss of human capital. The number of people lost to injury, death or emigration is staggering, and it will create permanent hardship for generations of Syrians. The decrease in the quality and quantity of public services — due to international sanctions on one hand and the absence of the qualified staff on the other — is clearly shown in schools, universities and especially in hospitals and other medical services. It is important to mention that more than 90 percent of available services in the country are public services. Moreover, many on the ground are saying that the highly qualified personnel who left Syria for other countries during the war were often granted citizenship rights. This means they were integrated into the society and the economy, and it makes their return to Syria unlikely, if not almost impossible
Security and socioeconomic conditions. Economic sanctions against Syria and its ally Iran impact directly the situation for Syrians on the ground. For there to be any improvement, sanctions must be eased, if not lifted altogether, reported local church leaders. The severe shortage of basic supplies, such as electricity, fuel and gas, has made it difficult to produce and export products for external markets, cutting off Syria from the flow of cash and imports. Until there is a change in the status of sanctions, post-conflict life will be much harder on the remaining population and will delay the return of the more than 5.6 million Syrians registered as refugees outside the country.
During our visit, we were in contact with school teachers and other civil servants who reported that their salaries have lost most of their purchasing power, falling more than 800 percent, from $600 per month before 2011 to $72 in 2019. And when we inquired regarding the need to continue with some emergency activities, we were told that sometimes even buying a bottle of vegetable oil would represent a challenge. More seriously, others informed us that some people lost their lives because they were not able to pay for the cost of dialysis treatment, which costs on average $25 per session.
Access to property and assets. Law No. 10 of 2018 established the concept of “renovation zones,” which put conditions on residents who want to return to their properties. They must present their deeds or proof of ownership within a certain short time period, or risk losing everything. Knowing that already many deeds were lost, the public perceived this step very negatively and many consider it a threat. There is much uncertainty.
22 February 2019
Tags: Syria ISIS
Families line up to receive medical care and food at the dispensary. (photo: CNEWA)
Lebanon is now witnessing a new phenomenon, according to our local church partner, the Socio-Medical Intercommunity Dispensary: Families and the elderly are approaching the dispensary for bread.
A member of the CNEWA Lebanon field staff writes:
I just came back from the field from Socio-Medical Intercommunity Dispensary in Nabaa where I had a meeting with the staff to follow-up on the health project CNEWA has been supporting. I was shocked at the sight of elderly women and men as well as families approaching the center asking for bread. A staff member told me that they are witnessing a new phenomenon, one they have not seen before, even during the war. Many well-known workshops in the area of Nabaa-Bourj-Hammoud are closing down and laying off workers. It is forcing families—who were barely able to cover their living expenses—to seek bread.
Through its local church partner, the Socio-Medical Intercommunity Dispensary, CNEWA for two years has supported the poor population of the area with food portions and medical aid; in 2018, 309 extremely poor families were provided with nourishment for five months.
The Socio-Medical Intercommunity Dispensary (also known as “Dispensaire Intercommunautaire”) is run by the Assembly of Female Religious Congregations. It was originally founded in 1968 by the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary to serve those in need in a variety of ways — socially, medically and culturally. The Assembly took charge of the dispensary in 1973 and has been running it since. The dispensary is located in Nabaa-Bourj Hammoud, known to be poor districts of East Beirut with mixed communities. The residents are predominantly Christians displaced from Mount Lebanon and other parts of the country during the civil war. There are also a large number of foreign workers (Syrian, Egyptian, Iraqi, Sri-Lankan, Filipino, etc.) seeking shelter in cheap, small apartments. These areas are densely populated, characterized by rates of high illiteracy, delinquency, unemployment, drugs and prostitution.
Hanna Issa's wife receives bread at the dispensary. (photo: CNEWA)
One of the beneficiaries of CNEWA’s program has been Hanna Issa. He and his family have been supported with food and medical aid which helped them to overcome their dire economic condition. Hanna, 55, is married and has a 13-year-old daughter. He used to work in a shoe workshop in the area of Bourj Hammoud. Due to the difficult economic situation, the workshop went into bankruptcy and had to close down, laying off dozens of workers. Hanna tried hard, but in vain, to find a job to provide for his family. But through CNEWA, Hanna and others in similar circumstances were kept afloat and did not drown in despair.
Others have not been so fortunate. Deteriorating economic and social conditions in Lebanon have led to a shocking increase in the number of acts of self-immolation—most offered in protest against the crushing economic conditions.
It is a reminder to us of how circumstances have changed so suddenly for so many. Tragically, a growing number of Lebanese hunger for more than bread; they crave human dignity and hope. CNEWA is privileged to help in any way we can, thanks to the support and generosity of our donors.
20 February 2019
In a project supported by CNEWA, young Indian women from poor families develop computer skills so they can have a brighter future. (photo: CNEWA)
We recently received the following update from our regional director in India, M.L. Thomas, describing a project CNEWA is supporting to help uplift and support the poor — in particular, helping girls develop vital skills they can use in the future:
More than 300 young women were trained in trades that can help sustain a good quality of life.
This was one of the highlights of the project supported by CNEWA in 2018. CNEWA accompanied a few church institutions to support the poor, particularly the Dalits, to help them earn a living on their own. This was made possible through the support of generous donors of CNEWA.
CNEWA helped 352 young women through these dioceses/institutions:
Archdiocese of Trivandrum helped 90
Diocese of Marthandom helped 89
Diocese of Thuckalay helped 65
Diocese of Palghat helped 64
St. Joseph’s After Care Home, Changanassery helped 44
St. Joseph’s After Care Home has been helping poor children for the last 24 years. Many grew up to become qualified nurses, who completed their schooling in the orphanage.
The Catholic Church, a pioneer of educating the young, has helped bring revolutionary changes to India in terms of providing basic education to the poor and to Dalit children. The Church is now working to support the poor in higher education and job training.
More than 300 young women have been trained in a variety of jobs, including nursing and health care. (photo: CNEWA)
In normal circumstances, the parents —being poor—would opt to send the young women away in marriage. Such women are often not prepared to take up the responsibility of running the home and raising children, and their lot in life never improves. So we need to help give them skills to make a living and have other opportunities.
During the last few years, CNEWA has helped hundreds of young women in their studies. Most have been able to settle into and well-paying jobs in nursing, computer or tailoring that give them a secure footing for the future and help them support their families.
We remain grateful to our generous donors for making all this possible, and helping to change the lives of India’s poor for the better!
11 February 2019
The staff and students of Bethlehem's Paul VI Ephpheta Institute. (photo: Ephpheta/CNEWA)
We recently received this report on the most recent semester at Bethlehem's Paul VI Ephpheta Institute for the Deaf, which CNEWA has supported for decades. As we described it in the pages of our magazine:
Ephpheta was founded at the Pope’s request after his visit to the Holy Land in 1964. Supported almost entirely by CNEWA, Ephpheta admits children on the basis of need, not their parents’ ability to pay. Ephpheta is run by the Sisters of Saint Dorothy, a largely Italian community dedicated to spreading the love of Christ through fostering human and Christian development. Although engaged in many types of educational and social work, the sisters have specialized in educating the deaf.
Currently, there are 182 students attending classes at Ephpheta Institute; at the beginning of the school year, the number of students fluctuated (more or less) according to various reasons: new students enrolled at the school while some students due to several factors such as difficult access issues; expensive transportation costs which parents cannot afford; change of residence; and other personal reasons/ decisions taken by parents. Currently, there are 14 or 15 students enrolled in the kindergarten and preschool; in the upper classes, the attendance tends to decrease.
Teacher training and activities (divided by class), were drawn up in accordance with the new academic programs offered by the Palestinian Ministry of Education. The common goal agreed upon, is to deepen the value of respect and cooperation towards oneself and others. This value involves teachers and students and will be implemented within the year through various initiatives and activities.
During the past four months, several initiatives have been implemented to help develop the skills of the students and help them overcome, at least in part, the “barrier” which may affect them psychologically, and their ability to communicate. The initiative included various activities such as Arabic dance, art, music, cooking and student-to-student exchange with semester.
Students learn to express themselves through fingerpainting. (photo: Ephpheta/CNEWA)
Students also had the opportunity to get creative, participating in a course by “CheArte” an organization dedicated to children’s expression through art. During the course, both students and teachers learned how to express their emotions using art forms and color. They learned how emotions can deeply affect us and by using art, to express their inner feelings, helping them to improve their wellbeing.
The teachers also participated in a workshop and ‘formation courses’ in cooperation with the Ministry of Education which taught them how to present the new revised curriculum to students. Ephpheta Institute also continued to offer parents workshops that raised awareness and enhance understanding of the needs of deaf children and how to be an effective, supportive parent.
Finally, all operators, teachers, speech therapists, specialists, continue to demonstrate commitment in carrying out their role with the aim to accompany and help students towards a positive assimilation into Palestinian society.
You can read more about the institute below:
The Miracle of Ephpheta
A Milestone: Ephpheta’s First High School Graduation
1 February 2019
Tags: CNEWA Bethlehem
The corridors at the Rosary Sisters School used to be open to the cold and rain. (photo: CNEWA)
We received the following good news from Laura Schau-Tarazi in our Jerusalem office:
Every winter, students and teachers of the Rosary Sisters School in Bethlehem had to brave the harsh conditions of the second and third floor corridors, which were open to the rain and covered with large puddles due to the lack of windows. Many classes are held on both floors and hundreds of students and teachers use the corridor daily in order to get to and from class. All of the students and teachers needed to wear winter coats, hats and gloves every day for the entire season. Teachers complained that the open corridors created cold, damp conditions in the classrooms, putting everyone at risk for contracting viruses, colds and the flu. The school building is well over 100 years old and the need for rehabilitation work continues to be a serious issue, especially since the building must meet modern safety codes.
The sisters appealed to CNEWA to help the school enclose the corridors with panels containing large aluminum windows. With a generous grant from the Representative Office of Germany in Ramallah, we were able to procure and install the windows that sealed off both corridors.
CNEWA helped provide a grant to enclose the corridors. (photo: CNEWA)
Plaster and paint were also applied to the problem areas. Additionally, the project hired three local laborers as well as a local engineer who inspected the work.
The work was completed during the Christmas break, allowing students and teachers to return to a warmer, dryer school!
Now the students and their teachers are able to walk the corridors without worrying about the weather. (photo: CNEWA)
25 January 2019
Tags: Education Bethlehem
The video above shows the very real struggles of Ukraine's elderly poor — and the efforts of Caritas to bring them light and hope. (video: Ivan Chernichkin/CNEWA)
In the current edition of ONE, journalist Mark Raczkiewycz looks at how Caritas Ukraine offers Windows to the World for the country’s elderly poor. He offers further impressions below.
There’s a saying in Ukraine that translates in English as: “Growing old isn’t a blessing.”
There are about 11 million pensioners here, who comprise about a quarter of the population. They eke out a living by relying on their paltry monthly pensions that amount to less than $100; the average monthly nationwide salary is $320. Yet they somehow survive. Statistics show that this segment is the most diligent when it comes to paying their utility bills on time. When I speak to them, they usually say that all their money goes towards buying medicine, paying bills and food. They really don’t have much left after that. They can’t afford to do what they want like go on trips and pursue hobbies in their leisure time. The healthier, more mobile ones help by taking care of grandchildren. Many often supplement their pensions by staying in the workforce. For example, they’ll sell fruits and vegetables from their summer home gardens or work as newspaper vendors near subway stations or hawk honey from their hives, anything they don’t consume.
It’s a necessity — otherwise, they wouldn’t survive. They usually don’t stray from their household budgets so they’re immediately vulnerable to any shocks in the economy like a rise in natural gas prices for heating or consumer inflation.
Their plight is impossible not to notice.
I’ve heard of women working as nannies or house cleaners and men who will moonlight as plumbers or basic repairmen. They’re resourceful in that way, doing whatever they can to make extra money to stay afloat. People joke that the seniors who gather and sit on benches act as the most effective community watchdogs. But that company is valuable for them to avoid being alone.
The more unfortunate really can’t rely on the state, which is why groups like Caritas as well as humanitarian efforts by the Greek Catholic Church are so important.
For the elderly, homecare assistance is more than helping them do things they can’t. Human interaction brightens their day and makes them feel like they’re not abandoned. Otherwise, the world becomes a lonely, cold place. Depression sets in. Dementia as well. I’ve seen how even taking a pet like a cat or dog improves their lives. How house calls by social workers, even for one hour a week makes a difference. The elderly deserve better and should lead more dignified lives.
They actually don’t ask for much, are the least demanding and the most patient. Thank goodness the church and Caritas are there for them.
Read more in the December 2018 edition of ONE.
18 January 2019
Some of the young people at the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home share their Christmas joy.
Earlier this week, our regional director in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Argaw Fantu, forwarded to us this lovely note and some pictures from our old friend Sister Lutgarda, of the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home. Thanks to our generous benefactors, CNEWA once again was able to send a donation to help the young people celebrate Christmas:
Peaceful greetings to all from Kidane Mehret Children’s Home!!
How beautiful a day can be when kindness touches it! These are the words with which I would like to thank each one of you, who have fundraised for our dear children. The generous sum of $5,000 has been received through CNEWA to celebrate the Christmas party for our children. It came truly in a good time, when we are preparing for Christmas.
I wish again and again that one day one of you will be here to participate and experience the joy of our children as they share their talents and receive their gifts.
To you and to all those who have donated this money, in the name of all the sisters and our dear children, I would like to express to you our heartfelt thanks for your kind and generous donation you have sent us for all these years. Hope that all of you are keeping well.
We have no words to thank you for your generosity. Every small donation counts. Whatever money remains of the party will go toward buying some items of food for the children and milk for the smaller ones.
Be sure that we will include you in our daily prayers and we ask the good Lord to continue to shower his choicest blessings upon each one of you and on your family. We wish you a very happy year to you and all your families.
God bless you all!
Sister Lutgarda Camilleri
Sister Lutgarda poses with some of the children at the home. (photo; CNEWA)
28 November 2018
Among the skills children learn at the Assisi School is how to create jewelry with beads.
This week, we received a report from our regional director in India, M.L. Thomas, updating us on a program CNEWA is supporting:
Kaleketty is a remote forest village in the diocese of Kanjirappally in Kerala. CNEWA stretched its hands to help 50 visually impaired children at a school for the blind run by the Congregation of Assisi Sisters of Mary Immaculate.
To help these children develop skills, the sisters conduct academic classes, and also give them training in music, dance, and physical education. They are also trained in rehab programs—making umbrellas, working with rattan and bamboo, or creating jewelry with beads.
CNEWA’s support bought musical instruments, along with mosquito nets, mats, mattresses, medicine and day-to-day living items.
The Assisi Sisters of Mary immaculate (ASMI) which is a Franciscan Congregation of the Syro-Malabar Church, was established in 1949. The congregation was founded to radiate God’s compassionate love to the most rejected of the society — including leprosy patients, the blind, and the mentally handicapped.
The Assisi School for the Blind is a residential school. They have 50 blind children this year studying in 10 grades. Up to grade 7, the students are taught in state syllabus with the help of Braille books. For higher secondary studies, the students stay in the school’s hostel and go to another nearby facility. Proper training, knowledge and encouragement enable them to overcome their disabilities and exceed in life.
We sincerely thank our generous donors for supporting this project. You have not seen these young people, and they cannot see you, but they do visualize you with their hearts. Be assured, they pray for you!
6 November 2018
Entertainers captivate children of all ages at Marie Doty Park in Bethlehem. (photo: CNEWA)
We were pleased to receive this update today on a project CNEWA has long supported in Bethlehem. Laura Schau-Tarazi in our Jerusalem office writes:
Marie Doty Park continues to be a beautiful green space for Bethlehem children and families. Our project coordinator, Gabi Kando, made a recent visit to the park to follow up on our work where two local area schools were holding activities.
Thanks to the Doty Foundation, work has been conducted during the year on various sections of the park including installing an alarm system and safety fence around the parameter of the park, new ventilators and new door for the multipurpose hall, games, rehabilitation of the water cistern and the procurement of new agricultural equipment. During this year, there has also been 16 children’s activities conducted so far, reaching 4,600 children. Additionally, the park hosted 38 different governmental and private schools and NGOs benefiting 2,500 children, as well as four summer camps for 500 children.
Some background on Marie Doty, from our magazine:
Over the years, Mrs. Doty, her husband, George, and their children have selflessly and generously supported CNEWA’s mission with their time, energy and financial resources.
Mrs. Doty played an active role in many agency works, including the restoration of the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the development of the first recreational parks in Palestine. On a visit there more than a decade ago, she quietly observed, “The children have no place to play.”
Determined to remedy the situation, Marie and George Doty provided CNEWA with the funds to build and equip playgrounds and related facilities in Bethlehem, Gaza and Ramallah. In addition to swings and slides, handball and basketball courts, the parks feature fountains and green lawns, “luxuries” Palestinian children once associated with Israeli settlements.
Marie Doty entered eternal life in 2008 — but clearly, she left the children of Palestine a legacy of joy that endures to this day.
Marie Doty Park remains a peaceful oasis for children in Bethelehem. (photo: CNEWA)
30 October 2018
Tags: Bethlehem Donors
Students at the Shashemene School for the Blind in Ethiopia sing and pray together after breakfast. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
CNEWA’s regional director in Addis Ababa, Argaw Fantu, forwarded us a report from the Shashemene School for the Blind in Ethiopia — a CNEWA-supported facility that is working wonders with young people.
Some highlights of the report:
Entrusting ourselves in the hands of God, we began the new scholastic year (2017-18). In spite of the political disturbances, we carried on our good work. Regular and fulltime teaching started by the end of September, as it took time to reach all our students, perhaps because of the political unrest throughout the country.
This year the teachers had the opportunity to attend a workshop held in our Catholic mission school. Though it was difficult for only two sisters to see to the running of the residential school—with the political unrest every now and then and other problems—nevertheless, with God’s grace, everything became possible. May God bless those we are privileged to serve!
As soon as all the children arrived we had an opening ceremony with the Holy Eucharist. Abba Tesfaye, our parish priest, offered the Mass, invoking God’s blessing on the school. This was followed by Bunna (coffee) ceremony.
We were happy to have the visit of our Bishop Abraham Desta along with Abba Gobezayehu, Abba Tesfaye and some visitors from abroad. They took time to go around the school and interact with the children. At the end, we met together to share some concerns of the school.
There were several visitors during the year — students from different universities and friends. All expressed appreciation for the work being done.
Ex-students: Most of our former students are well-settled in life. One of our ex-students who is married and is working for a government organization was happy to give a talk to the students on causes and prevention of HIV. Another two students doing their research on the foundation and development of the school had a lot to share as a part of their research. It was also a joy to meet five of our ex-students from Hawassa Universitym, who visited the school along with their colleagues. These five have completed their graduation this year and hope to be employed in the near future.
Volunteers: We thank a couple from Poland who occasionally gave their services by teaching the children music. They also gave a short training to the teachers on how to operate the braille printer. Another group of youngsters from Shashemane spent time with the children every Saturday. They taught them hymns and games.
Christmas Celebrations: This year, the celebrations, were extra colorful with a beautiful decorated tent. New dance costumes added flavor to the show. Many friends, some ex-students, and relatives of children who are not too far away attended. Our children are always happy and excited when they get an occasion to exhibit their talents such as acting, music, dance, acrobatics, reciting poems,etc. Thanks to the efforts of the music teacher, some of the boys were able to handle the key board and perform well, to the delight of the audience.
Day of the Differently Abled: This is what the children are — talented and intelligent. On this special day, we created an atmosphere to make them feel that they are indeed able and not disabled. Through a short program, they showed that they are gifted and on a par with any sighted person.
Maintenance: The school is 37-years-old. No doubt the buildings and furniture need maintenance and replacements. With the help of our benefactors, we were able to purchase some furniture, water tanks, mattresses, blankets, two sets of sweaters and other necessary items. A lot of maintenance was also done. Here I need to mention Luigi, a volunteer from Italy, who worked hard to get our electrical system in order. We look forward to re-arranging our water system by replacing the old rusted iron pipes with fiber pipes. We hope this will solve our perennial water shortage problem.
Tree Planting: Bunna (coffee) is the specialty of Ethiopia. Our teachers were very eager to plant coffee saplings in our school garden. They continue to water and nurture their respective coffee plants. All praise to you, God, for our beautiful green garden!
Outings: What a joy to go out for a picnic! We went often with our children to a beautiful park. They looked extra-smart this year in their new school T- Shirts, which had this printed on the front: “Disability is Not Inability.” May they continue to enjoy their childhood and their dignity.
Our staff too had a great day at Hawassa Lake. IThey cooked their lunch and had a sumptuous meal. All felt a bond of togetherness as they sang, ate and had a boat ride together. Let us keep up the joy of togetherness!
Graduation: This year, we bade farewell to 12 students who completed their elementary education in the residential setting. On the day of their farewell, for the first time, to the amazement of the parents and staff our 12 children dressed in blue graduation gowns and walked elegantly in the midst of the audience. All were filled with joy to see these students in their new attire. All the best, dear students, God bless you!
For the first time, students donned gowns for their graduation.
(photo: Shashemene School for the Blind
A Word of Thanks: We — the students, staff and sisters — owe a deep debt of gratitude to our many kind and generous benefactors, both individuals and groups, without whom our work would not have been possible.
My heart-felt thanks to all those who helped us economically and morally, encouraging and strengthening us during the past year.
May God bless you!
Sister Ashrita Mendes, Shashemane School for the Blind
CNEWA remains grateful to all who have helped so many of the young people at Shashemane — truly bringing light to their darkness. What a difference you are making in so many lives.
On behalf of all of them, and the people who serve them in Ethiopia, we can only echo this heartfelt sentiment from Sister Ashrita: "Thank you! May God bless you!"