Skip to main content

As one travels across Syria, one notices wealth of values thrive in hearts and lives of people

By Fr Cedric Prakash sj*
‘Why’? Is the one question that is uppermost in one’s heart and mind? Why the violence and war? The death and destruction that has ravaged Syria for more than six years now. A conflict which has left millions displaced, desperately seeking security in safer parts of the country or fleeing as refugees to neighbouring countries after braving many odds. Why? Why? Why? Why is Syria in the doldrums today? Why have millions of children become a lost generation? Why is the economy in a shambles? And numerous without a livelihood? 
There are no easy, black-and-white answers. Most are aware that there are powerful vested interests who would like the conflict to continue. The tragedy, however, is that the ordinary Syrian citizen is the one who continues to suffer. But as one journeys in the midst of devastation, one cannot but pinpoint some other dimensions:
  • Beauty
Syria is a country of amazing beauty! As one traverses the hilly slopes of the Al-Khafroun one is struck by the sheer grandeur of the region. At a distance is the picturesque and historic town of Safita: a city on a hill. Beautiful orchards with fruit-laden orange and apricot trees and vast expanses of olive trees dot the country-side. The road to Damascus from Homs has a world of difference: rugged, barren hills, with large tracts of desert-land. Syria is rich in flora: flowers everywhere are in full bloom. The Syrians consider the Jasmine as their national flower; but there are a variety of others including rare orchids. Syria has it all: just beautiful!
  • Faith
Faith is palpable among the Syrians. The muezzin’s call to pray is loud and clear. Most cars and taxis have either a masbaha or a rosary dangling from the front rear-view mirrors. It is quite normal to find a Syrian fingering a masbaha whilst doing business or just walking down the street. Old Damascus has several Churches and mosques alongside. The main street displays several vinyl banners welcoming the new Melkite Catholic Patriarch. At the House of Ananias (where St Paul was converted and baptized) on Straight Street a group of people are in deep prayer. On the Feast of St. Thomas, the Apostle of India at Bab Tuma (the Gate of Thomas) one cannot help but feel an aura of the place, from where it is believed that St. Thomas left for the shores of India.
  • Inspiration
Fr. Frans Van der Lugt, the Dutch Jesuit was killed in Homs on April 7th 2014.An iconic figure he was a source of inspiration and strength to many. Today he continues to live on, in their hearts and lives. He was deeply spiritual; a real bridge between persons, touching and impacting on their lives in a very profound way Frans loved nature; his hikes are still very much talked about.
He ensured that everyone: Muslim and Christian; old and young were welcome at the Jesuit Centre in Homs. This continues today. He lived among his people; took a visible and vocal stand for them and ultimately he had to pay the price! At his graveside one only experiences a serene peace and the inspiration to do much more.
  • Resilience
Sunday 2nd July was one of those violent days in Syria. The people woke up to three explosions that rocked Damascus City; the one in the Tahrir Square area of the city was particularly severe: leaving about 19 dead, several others injured and with much destruction in the vicinity. It was the first working day after the holidays for the Eid festival. By early afternoon however, there was an apparent air of ‘normalcy’ in several parts of the city. 
The well-known Shaalan Street was bustling with activity late evening: with the eateries rather crowded and the shoppers on a spree. People from all walks of life: children, women and men; young and old, visibly from different cultural and religious backgrounds thronged the street. The resilience of the people is remarkable, inspite of a reality which make their lives consistently insecure and unsafe.
  • Hope
There are numerous stories of hope in Syria. Ordinary people who want to live in peace and harmony; who want the war and violence to stop immediately. The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Syria is one such organisation that enkindles hope in the lives of thousands who are affected.JRS does phenomenal work especially in education, child protection, livelihood training, medical support and being in the midst of the most affected. The field kitchen in Aleppo provides nutritional food to thousands of the most needy. The JRS team reaches out to those affected at great risk. The Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s Sisters) care for the destitute: those who have nowhere to go. Beacons of hope everywhere!
  • Joy
The children who frequent the JRS Centre in Homs have brought their parents along for an afternoon of fun and games! It is a delight to watch the expressions of joy on their faces. At another JRS Centre ninth graders celebrate their accomplishment. An elderly lady, who has suffered from the trauma of displacement, insists that we listen to her reading and to see that she can now write. She is effusive about the programme which has been providing her the necessary literacy skills. A ten year girl comes running up just to say how happy she is to come to a place (the Albert Hurtado Centre in Jaramana, Rural Damascus) which is like a second home for her.
  • Rebuild
To ‘rebuild’ is like a catch word in Syria today- and urgently needed. As one leaves the country towards Lebanon, the billboards along the way speak about the need to rebuild Syria and of a forthcoming Exhibition to be held in September (www.re-buildsyria.com) the regularization of commercial activity is perhaps an important step in helping restore Syria’s multi-cultural and pluralistic society.
So as the world still pursues the elusive answer to the tragedy of Syria today and the lack of political will to ensure peace and stability in the region, one can certainly take consolation from the fact that there is a wealth of values that still thrive in the hearts and lives of the people.
---
*Indian human rights activist currently based in Lebanon and engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications

Comments

TRENDING

World Bank clarifies: Its 26th rank to India not for universal access to power but for ease of doing business

By Our Representative
In a major embarrassment to the Government of India, the World Bank has reportedly clarified that it has not ranked India 26th out of 130 countries for providing power to its population. The top international banker’s clarification comes following Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal’s claim that India has “improved to 26 position from 99” in access to electricity in just one year.

"Misleading" satellite images being shared on Balakot surgical strike on Jaish camp

By Dr Vinay Kate*
With every passing day more questions are being raised about the surgical strike India did in Balakot as a response to Pulwama attacks. So far the Indian media has claimed mass casulaty of 300+ terrorists of Jaish-e-Mohammad in this surgical strike, but there is hardly any report from foreign media about the same.

Extreme repression, corporate loot, cultural genocide "characterise" India's tribal belt

Counterview Desk
As Lok Sabha polls approach, there is considerable ferment in one section of the population -- India's Adivasis, forming about 8.6 per cent of India's population. Things became particularly critical following the February 14, 2019 Supreme Court order, allegedly seeking to evict lakhs of tribals from their forest lands.

Industry in India "barely growing", export growth 0%, whither moral anchors?

Counterview Desk
In a sharp critique of the Modi government, the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A), one of world renowned economist Prof Kaushik Basu, who is Professor of Economics and Carl Marks Professor of International Studies at Cornell University, has told students at the IIM-A’s 54th Annual Convocation on March 16, 2019 that they have a “special responsibility” on their shoulders, “the responsibility to reject narrow sectarianism, uphold scientific thinking, openness to new ideas, and freedom of speech.”

Gujarat model? Industrial effluents "invade" borewells, discharge coloured water in farms

By Rajiv Shah
In a major embarrassment for Gujarat model, of the 21 samples taken by officials of the state government's environmental watchdog Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) in two villages of Vadodara district and analyzed by its laboratory in Gandhinagar, the state capital, to find out pollution level in groundwater, 16 were assessed as highly contaminated – these were, in fact, found to be discharging reddish, brownish, reddish, or yellowish water.

Refugees as criminals? US govt report blames Amit Shah for calling Bangladeshis termites

Counterview Desk
The chapter “Freedom of Movement” of the US State Department’s “India 2018 Human Rights Report”, released recently, has criticized BJP chief Amit Shah for terming alleged Bangladeshis who may be in Assam as “termites”, because their names were struck down from the list of National Register of Citizens, under preparation in the state.
Pointing out that four million residents were excluded from Assam’s final draft list, leading to “uncertainty over the status of these individuals, many of whose families had lived in the state for several generations”, the report regrets, the Indian law does not even contain the term “refugee,” treating refugees like Rohingiyas as “any other foreigners.”
“Undocumented physical presence in the country is a criminal offense. Persons without documentation were vulnerable to forced returns and abuse”, the report says.
Text of the Freedom of Movement chapter: The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, a…

Congress would win just 9 of 26 Lok Sabha seats: Gujarat Assembly segment-wise analysis

By Rajiv Shah
Even as the Congress plans its first working committee meet in Gujarat on February 28 after an almost 58 year gap, there is reason to wonder what is in store for India’s grand old party in a state which has been long been a BJP bastion – in fact ever since mid-1990s. Ahead of the then assembly polls in late 2012, talking with me, a senior Gujarat Congress leader, currently Rajya Sabha MP, frankly said he saw no reason why Congress would win.

"Pro-corporate" Supreme Court order on FRA would further marginalize Adivasis

By VS Roy David, JP Raju*
For millions of Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers February 13, 2019 will go down in history as the day of apocalypse. This is like the proverbial Black Friday where millions of most marginalized people of India were ordered by malicious anti-people draconian Supreme Court order depriving them the life and livelihood by evicting them from their habitats.

Financial inclusion? Not micro-loans; India's poor "need" investment in health, education

By Moin Qazi*
India has grown into a global powerhouse. Its economy is soaring but the picture on the ground is still quite arid. The green shoots that you see are only a patch of its landscape. Most Indians are hapless victims of inequity. India is one country where intense poverty abounds in the shadow of immense wealth.

India, Pakistan told to eliminate nuclear weapons: N-war "would kill" 2 billion

Counterview Desk
The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), a non-partisan federation of national medical organizations in 64 countries, representing tens of thousands of doctors, medical students, other health workers, and concerned citizens, claiming to share the common goal of creating a more peaceful and secure world freed from the threat of nuclear annihilation, has warned that “an unprecedented global catastrophe” awaits the globe against the backdrop of warmongering in India and Pakistan.