In Syria, the Marist Brothers of the Schools are present since 1904 and since then they admined schools and formed thousands of young people lead by the charism of St. Marchellin Champagnat.
FMSI has been supporting the community of Marist Brothers in Aleppo since July 2012. At the time of the first bombings and raids on the city, they decided to stay and organize a group of about 30 volunteers (young people and adults called “Blue Marists” because of the t-shirt that distinguished them) to attend to an initial sudden wave of more than 2000 displaced persons packed in 4 schools provided by city authorities. Nowadays, among the many initiatives, the Shabba camp project started in April 2018 is still ongoing and trying to fulfil the new needs every time we are aware of them in the limits of our possibilities, taking into account that the camp is only 3 km from the front lines and in an area surrounded by armed groups.
Since its beginning, more than 400 children achieved good nutrition standards and access to adequate food and water, adequate basic sanitation and knowledge about the adoption of hygiene and sanitation practices. The psychological impact of the project is also very important supporting children in developing resilience to overcome the trauma of the conflict: children are offered quality activities to play, learn, develop and build resilience. They report positive social connection and interactions, positive thoughts of their life and hopes for their future.
Since then, Br. George Sabè and lay people, among whom Dr. Nabil Antaki, made a long list of initiatives, following two paths: on one side the humanitarian help, on the other one education and personal development.
The initiatives that follow the first path are:
- Blue Marist Programme for displaced families: from 2012 to 2018 they offered recover to more than a thousand people, gave away food and personal hygiene kits, clothes, shoes and a pocket money.
- The Blue Marist Medical programme: due to the raise of living costs and the absence of medical insurance, many inhabitants could not afford to pay for their medical care. With this programme the Blue Marists pay for the needy ones.
- Drop of milk: every month the Marists offer powder milk to some 3000 children under the age of 11 and artificial milk to new-borns.
- “Tel Rifaat” project: following the invasion of the NW by the Turkish army that made 100.000 people flee their homes, the Blue Marists started a project in Shahba camp, 30 km west of Aleppo. Twice a week, twenty volunteers give out food and toiletries, while others play with kids and teach women new skills.
- JOB is an initiative focussed on encouraging young people to stay in Syria and help the reconstruction. Three laboratories where created within JOB: Heart Made, a tailoring lab where the participants recycle old clothes, Mary Center, where clothes for newborns are made, and Creative Turner, where people learn how to use a lathe.
- Micro-projects: Blue Marists are trying to activate micro-financing projects. They first organize workshops for those willing to start a new activity. At the end of 2 days of seminar those project that seem more feasible in terms of possibilities of self-sustainment and profitability get financed.
The initiatives on the pedagogical and personal development side are:
- Learn to grow is aimed for 85 displaced children between 3 and 6 years. They receive education and medical care.
- I want to learn is the same of the above, just targeted for 6 and 11 years old.
- Skill school is the programme for the teenagers, who get to know themselves and their capabilities in depth thanks to the volounteers who guide them to the knowledge.
- Marist institute for Training (MIT) is a programme of vocational training for adults.
- The Blue Marist Programme for the eradication of illiteracy is aimed at adults who cannot read nor write.
- Cut and Sew teaches women how to sew, whether they like to do in their spare time or as a profession.
- Hope is the project the Blue Marist set up to teach English or French to the mothers of the kids who attend primary school, so they can help them with their homework.
- Women Education and Development is targeted for the most vulnerable women, that are taught new skills in special workshops based on their needs.