21 december 2016
He is born in a cotton shelling factory.
They are talking everywhere about the East Aleppo's displaced persons. At the start they are received at Jibrine in the halls, built to become factories. When we went there to help, we were told there was no place any more, and people were placed in the cotton shelling halls (mphalege al-koton). Thousands of children, women and old people (clearly, men are lacking) are huddled up in makeshift shelters, submitted to cold and shortage of sanitary conditions: 4 W.C. for 500 people. Drink water is slightly salted, at night temperature goes down till -6°C, and the halls are 20 m. high; and it is forbidden to lit a fire, because there are everywhere mattresses and blankets. People's hands, their faces and their clothing are dirty. No possibility to take a bath, nor even to wash their faces with icy water. People are burning outdoors whatever fire can consume and they regroup around the fire, to get some warmth. I leave the word to Fr. Ziad's camera.
First photo: these twins are born orphans' in the camp, and their mother is away to get the food ration, the twins are outdoor's in the winter sun, carefully looked after by their "older sister" of nine years. We are five days before Christmas. A baby in the crib!
The three other photos don't need commentary.
The last two are a sign of joy. Our column is on the road. And our JRS volunteers are in action, Muslims and Christians.
We did then organise a column to go to the "cotton shelling place": 6 trucks and delivery vans, 85 volunteers. At the program: To record the families in order to determine the needs, and to distribute in accordance with the needs: blankets, fruit, hoods, socks, and ... originality bisquits for the children. As far as water is concerned, one pack weighs 9 kilograms. A family of 7 people - the average number per family - will get 3 packs. It is difficult for the children to transport them. Our trucks, with our volunteers went round the tents and halls and delivered the packs at the door! Never seen before in this camp! Usually international organisations do ask people to queue up, and the police beat the unrulies with a silicone pipe. Here they are served 'at home', with respect for human dignity.
Our way to proceed: teams are going from one shelter to another, filling formularies in and giving tickets to the families. One member of each family comes to the place of distribution, he is received by a volunteer who accompanies him kindly to help him take successively bags of fruit, blankets, hoods, socks and bisquits, depending on what is written on their tickets. If he or she is not able to bear it all, because it is often a child, an aged person or a woman bearing a baby, the volunteer accompanies him or her until their place.
Outdoors with a temperature of 3°C in the shadow, we were working without any stop from 10 H. until 17 H.. According to the statistics, 4000 people were served with respect and dignity, without queuing and without T.V. filming them. This astonished all the associations, even the international organisation. I am proud of this.
Here is an anecdote: a child aged 6 years takes a banana and start eating it with the skin. Embarrassed, his mother explains to us that the child had seen them at the grocery, but had never eaten them, they were too expensive.
In the evening there was a feast on Azizyé place, nearby our place. The Armenian scouts, with "SOS-Christians from the East" (a French organisation of the Front National) want to inaugurate a great Christmas's fir-tree. State authorities and catholic bishops were present, and also T.V. The event became rapidly a political gathering where all speeches were oriented towards the socalled "victory" of Aleppo. I was anxious and rightly so. A bomb exploded and made material damages, but luckily no casualties. People became immediately panic stricken. Direct T.V. was immediately cut off, and after half an hour people were called, I don't know where, to start again, as if nothing happened. Once again I did try to be a good Jesuit, obeying church authorities. Last week I did warn the bishops, through the channel of my friend, the latin bishop, about the dangers of this kind of festivities: politisation of Christmas, provocation of the Sunnites, lack of respect for the people who are suffering, etc.. They didn't listen.
22 december 2016
Yesterday it was snowing the whole day and during the night. What happens to the displaced persons? But a small comfort came to my mind: we have done what we should have done.
Today I came to an agreement with an association who has milk for babies and small children, but doesn't distribute it, because water available in the camps is salty and harmful for the children. We give 540 bottles of drinking water for the babies and the small children. The distribution will happen to-morrow.
The displaced persons burn everything that can be burned, in order to get warm. To-day we have distributed to the displaced persons 2 tons of wood for fireplace. Our Christmas holyday begins on Saturday, and urgent work is knocking us about. We work without any respite, just as in a bee-hive, in order to celebrate with a fairly good conscience.
In fact, my conscience is not quite so peaceful: this morning a baby has died from the cold in the cotton shelling halls. I refused to get his photo. I prefer he remains anonymous, just as the childhood of his Master and Saviour.
To everyone, woman or man, I wish a joyful Christmas !
Sami Hallak s.j.