Syria’s Share the Journey Solidarity Walk in Ghouta

 By Sandra Awad, communications officer with Caritas Syria

When Caritas Internationalis launched a 1 million kilometre solidarity walk with migrants and refugees as part of its Share the Journey Campaign, we felt like it would be a good opportunity for Caritas Syria to try to build bridges between Christians in Damascus who had been suffering from mortar shells fired from Ghouta for many years.

Ghouta had been under siege. The people had been living in a terrible humanitarian situation for years. To show solidarity, we invited many Christian scout groups from different churches in Damascus to walk along with us toward Ghouta.

Share the Journey Solidarity Walk by Caritas staff and scouts from Damascus to Ghouta. Credit: Caritas Syria

Since May 2018, Caritas has succeeded in entering Ghouta many times. It has distributed food baskets, fresh vegetables and diapers in many villages and shelters there. One of the poorest villages we visited in Ghouta was Medaa. We distributed around 270 food baskets to the residents of that village on October 4, 2018. During the distribution, a man in his fifties approached us. He asked us if we could accompany him to see the school of the village.

Find out more about the Share the Journey Campaign

Hiba, a Caritas social worker, said, “We were shocked that 377 students attend this destroyed school every day. The classes were without windows or doors. The desks were very poorly made. The eight bathrooms were without doors. Sewer grates were opened in the yard of the school where the children were supposed to play every day.”

Around half of educational structures are still functioning in Syria. Many schools have no access to electricity, water or sanitation facilities. The director told us that the water at his school was undrinkable and wasn’t even good for washing. They couldn’t use the water from a nearby well because they didn’t have the means to retrieve it.

One hundred children out of 377 students were orphans in the school in Ghouta. It is a town that has gone through destruction on an epic scale. Credit: Caritas

The cold season has started and people are struggling to keep warm. The head said that some of the children are still wearing summer clothes. One of the teachers, Manal, added, “When it is raining, we simply ask the students to go back home. The poor building of the school cannot protect them from the rain. But we know that the majority of the students are living in destroyed houses, without windows, doors or furniture.”

We walked to Medaa due to the extreme poverty and bad condition of the school in this village. We wanted the young scout groups from Damascus to see on ground how those students were struggling every day. We also wanted people in Medaa to experience Christian compassion, care and love.

Side by side solidarity walk to Ghouta school

On International Children’s Day 20 November, our psycho-social team walked with the scouts and the students of Medaa. They walked in the destroyed streets of their village.

The school director was explaining to us during the walk about the old days before the war. It was like other Ghouta villages, an agricultural area, full of olive and fruit trees. He pointed to a destroyed two floor house and said with a sad voice: “This was my house. It was a beautiful country house, but now as you can see, they destroyed it and all our good memories. I will never be able be able to afford to restore it again.”

At Medaa school, 377 elementary school students greeted us with songs and applauses.  I told them how beautiful they were in all their colours, “This mixture of colors is very similar to Syria. We are different from each other. We might belong to different religions, sects or have different opinions. But we are like the Syrian rainbow. If this rainbow loses some of its colors, it won’t be shining in the sky in such beauty…”

Caritas has provided aid to Ghouta since the fighting ended. Credit: Caritas

We started our activities and there were lots of smiles, even from children who’d been deeply scarred by the war. One hundred children were orphans. When Caritas staff dressed up as Disney characters the children felt overwhelmed and kept touching and hugging them. At the end of this day, the Caritas team distributed gifts to children, candies, stationery and warm pyjamas.

We too were given a gift on our return home. A young scout spoke to us on the bus. “I would like to thank Caritas for this opportunity and great experience,” he said.

“I was hesitating whether to participate or not. I was really afraid I would be kidnapped or that the children would react badly. I discovered a different reality today. I have a duty now to talk about what we have experienced here to our friends in Damascus.”

Find out more about the Share the Journey Campaign