“We are doing a lot for orphans — for children of women who were kidnapped by IS militants. There are 30,000 orphans in Syria who were born by women who were kidnapped by IS. They were just sex slaves of terrorists, and these children do not yet have the possibility to be registered [as a citizen] with a name, and so they cannot have a future. They cannot be registered because for the state, they are sons born in sin, outside of marriage, so it is not allowed,” Avveduto said.
The association is working with Syria's Muslim religious officials on this initiative, dubbed "One name one future," to create a law that would allow these children have a name and be registered as citizens, Avveduto explained.
"Because if they have a name, in future they will be able to have a life, to get an education,” he continued.
The project is supported by bishop George Abou Khazen, Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo, and Mahmoud Akam, Mufti of Aleppo, who first recognized the social emergency.
"These children are everywhere in Syria. Just in Aleppo, there are 5,000. It’s catastrophic. The idea of this project was generated together by the bishop of Aleppo and mufti of Aleppo. It’s the first multi-religious project in Syria since the beginning of the war,” Avveduto said.
The initiative is currently being promoted through four centres in eastern Aleppo, where the religious community takes care of the children, teaches them "to speak, to read, to hope, with a lot of psychological effort."
"We teach them to write, to draw. These children draw horrible pictures – bombs or soldiers or people dead,” he continued.
Apart from helping the marginalised children, Pro Terra Sancta is also trying to find permanent jobs for mothers.
Although negotiations with Syria's parliament have not brought any practical results thus far, Avveduto said he remained optimistic.
"Negotiations with the parliament are difficult, but there is a possibility [of getting its support], because the Mufti also spoke to them. If the Muslims and the Christians are together, there is a hope to win the battle,” he said.
Christian NGO Surviving Under Bombs in Syria’s Idlib to Help Locals of All Creeds
The presence of the Pro Terra Sancta non-profit association, which is run by the Franciscan friars, in the terrorist-controlled Idlib province of Syria is a unique situation in which the charity's workers are living under the threat of bombings and hiding their Christian symbols to help local civilians of all creeds satisfy basic needs and survive during the war.
Sputnik spoke with Andrea Avveduto, the charity's communications chief, about its activities in Idlib and problems it must overcome for the sake of helping the others.
"In Idlib, we have two friars. It’s really impossible for any charity to be there, but we are present because our friars were there since the beginning of the war, and they did not leave, they stayed since 2011 and organized an emergency centre. They still live there despite the terrorists’ siege," Avveduto said.
According to the official, the charity enjoys the help of about 40-50 Christians in the province.
"They do not have a possibility to show any Christian symbols, militants do not allow. They live under constant bombs and under economic sanctions that do not allow the arrival of any financial help. Even for us it’s difficult to bring resources to help people there to survive,” Avveduto said.
The United Nations estimates that Idlib is still home to more than 10,000 terrorists, with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (al-Qaeda affiliate, formerly known as the Nusra Front, banned in Russia) as the main terrorist force operating there.
"It’s very hard to get into that zone controlled by militants. We help there [in Idlib] whoever needs help – Christians, Muslims, it does not matter. In Idlib, it’s mostly food and non-food items. In Idlib, it’s impossible to rebuild society, to rebuild houses, for example, like we did in Aleppo. Because in Idlib, there still war going on. We hope it will end soon, but in these days the situation is very fragile,” Avveduto said.
"We transfer money to our people there from Lebanon, in order to surpass the sanctions. Because otherwise, it is impossible. We made bank transfers in Lebanon. It was very dangerous, it is still very dangerous, but we cannot help directly because of the sanctions, because they cut bank transfers to 60-70 persons,” Avveduto said.
Apart from helping with food and non-food items, the two friars living in Idlib — Fr. Hanna Jallouf and Fr. Louai Bshrat — have been trying to run schools in their convents in the Knaye and Yacoubieh villages following the collapse of the school system in 2013. There, Christian teachers teach art, music, Arabic and English languages, mathematics and religion, including the Koran. All children are welcome.
Wherever possible, Pro Terra Sancta’s emergency centres in Syria also focus on supporting micro-enterprises.
“During the last year, after Aleppo was freed from terrorists, we developed some projects to support some micro-entrepreneurship activities. So that young people who want to work have a possibility, for example, to create a little shop, to make soap of Aleppo, or to sell clothes, shoes, anything. We asked them to prepare business plans and then we tried to finance them. Because the biggest emergency in my opinion in these years has been that people did not do anything. If you don’t do anything in your life, inside yourself you die. These people did not have the hope for the future. Our biggest project in Syria is to bring hope back to the people,” Avveduto said.
The association also runs centres for deaf or blind children. In Aleppo, they are operating a school for young deaf people, which is attended by 60 students.
“During the war, more than 5,000 schools in Syria were closed. So we are trying to support the education of students, to let them study, to pay the salary of the teachers, to open new schools even for children who are not able to hear or to speak, or to create also the centers for studies, meaning just rooms with light, because during the war, there has been no electricity, only generators controlled by fuel,” Avveduto said.
The official also noted "a strong relationship" between all the churches during the war. Muslim children also go to the schools supported by the organization, Avveduto assured.
He added that the association also rebuilds churches.
"Because a person needs three things to stay in the country: a place to live at, a place to work at, and a place to pray at. During these years, a lot of people, even Muslims, haven’t had a place to pray at," he said.
Pro Terra Sancta is financed by public and private donations. According to Avveduto, public financing comes from “public foundations, like the peace conference of bishops, and other institutions from the European Union,” while private contributions come mainly from Italy, where one of the two headquarters of the organization is located, the other is in Jerusalem. During the past seven years, they have collected several millions of euros and claim that more than 20,000 people are assisted every month through different support mechanisms.