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Due to the emergency situation, the rector of the convent opened the school without permit, and the Jesuit Fathers provided the necessary expertise and curriculum.

By early November 2012, the school provided education to 450 students and job opportunities to around 45 teachers. Once again, CNEWA was an important source of support, providing books and educational material to the students and emergency aid to their families.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the people most affected by the war in Syria are children with special needs; their situation has deteriorated substantially. The ravages of war have destroyed two centers for handicapped children located in downtown Homs. Both centers operated under the administration of the Jesuit Fathers and the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.

In response, we opened two centers in safe areas to shelter these vulnerable children. The first center has enrolled 30 children at St. Savior Convent. The second is located at the Maronite convent outside of Homs. Both centers provide the children with necessary supervision in addition to therapeutic sessions and a hot meal every day.

Our mission has not been easy. At first, we had planned to work on a limited scale and within a limited period of time not exceeding three months, after which we had hoped that the war would have ended and the displaced would return to their homes. However, the sheer magnitude of destruction and the increasing needs of those displaced have made such plans impossible.

Caring for more than 3,000 displaced families and providing support to 2,000 children who need continuous care on all levels is indescribably heavy. And until now, few organizations have assisted us with our mission. I still remember how CNEWA took the initiative at the beginning of the harsh winter and provided 1,000 families with winter kits to help the children in our schools survive the cold and the poor housing conditions.

We have had some difficult cases of children who have lost one or both of their parents. One such child is a 12-year-old whom I will call “Rita.” Her father was shot in the head and has been in a coma since last year; her mother had a nervous breakdown and is being treated in a specialized center. Rita is currently living with her aunt, who is also displaced. Rita refuses to go back to school and she isolates herself from the world. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd, along with a psychologist, are trying to support her morally and to assist her in her studies at home. However, she has thus far rejected these efforts to help her.

Maybe our efforts will not be enough to satisfy the huge needs of the displaced families and to relieve their sufferings. But what we are trying to do is simply shine a small spot of light on the shadow of violence.

Pope Francis has said: “Do not let yourselves be robbed of hope!” Despite the fact we live among our people and we feel their suffering — and at the same time we know our capability to help is limited compared to the needs — I strongly believe we should be consistent in providing hope through opening our churches, our convents and our hearts to every person and live in solidarity with our people.

Many families told us during our regular visits: “The church is all that we have now, and without you we will sink in a sea of despair and spiritual hell.”

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