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No one is helping “shamed children”: Friar from Bad Godesberg reports on visit to Aleppo

No one is helping “shamed children” : Friar from Bad Godesberg reports on visit to Aleppo

After a trip to Aleppo, the Franciscan friar Matthias from Bad Godesberg is appalled at how many children are completely on their own. Some are suffering from injuries. They should be operated on in Germany.

The civil war that has been raging in Syria since 2011 is leaving behind traumatised children, many of whom live alone and suffer from hunger. “These boys and girls mustn’t be forgotten and need our help,” says Father Matthias Maier. At the end of June, he travelled to Aleppo in Syria with stern TV reporter Sophia Maier to get an idea of the situation and the Franciscan Mission Headquarters (MZF) aid projects there.

Everyone had to be very careful, as filming and photography in public is not allowed. “There isn’t a soldier on every corner,” says the Father, “but you’re being watched.”

In the previously prosperous Aleppo, the delegation was presented with the image of a divided city. “In the unbombed west, you can still move around relatively freely,” reports the Franciscan monk,” but in the east, the total destruction begins.” This eastern part was the subject of the stern TV report that showed how children, some of whom have only known war and fear since birth, are living on the streets and in collapsed houses. “During conversations, you notice how broken the children are from the years of war,” notes Sophia Maier. “They have lost their relatives and immediately hide at every noise.”

Therapy for traumatised war victims

When the troubles in Syria began and Al-Qaeda and ISIS occupied parts of the city, the Franciscans remained to support the people affected, whether Christians or Muslims. In east Aleppo, the Franciscans run a social centre that focuses on medical and therapeutic help; in the west, leisure activities are offered. The aid organisation also finances the renovation and rebuilding of destroyed homes for families.

Today almost only women and children live in Aleppo. “The men have either fled because they did not want to go to war or have died,” explains Father Matthias. Despite it being the law, many boys and girls cannot attend school because they are working to feed their younger siblings or they have to look after them while their mothers go to work. “They are missing these years in their lives and for their future,” regrets the friar.

An experience that really moved the 55-year-old was the encounter with a group of unregistered children who were born and abandoned after rapes by terrorists or whose parents were killed or fled. “They are called the nameless children because no one knows what they are called or who they are,” he explains. As these boys and girls are treated as “shamed children” in their culture, no one stands up for them. “Our local brothers look for individuals or families to take these children in.”

Many of them have been disabled by war injuries and bomb damage, says the friar. Some still have splinters in their head, but no chance of having them surgically removed. “Some could be healed quickly here in Germany,” the Franciscan friar is certain and is therefore advocating an “opening of humanitarian doors.”

The Franciscan Mission Headquarters relies on donations to finance its aid projects. “Like all religious orders, we are not a church in the state’s view,” explains the director, “and therefore don’t receive any church tax according to the Concordat.”

For information on the work of the aid organisation and ways of donating go to www.mzf.org

(Original text: Martina Sondermann; Translation: kc)