Micro-projects in Damascus help Christians rebuild their lives
Like many other Syrians, Mousa and Tamara lost their jobs and most prospects for a better future because of the civil war that tore their country apart. These two members of the Christian community never stopped dreaming that the future could be better, and now, because of a project supported by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), those dreams are finally coming true.
Mousa Fares is 38 years old and lives with his elderly parents and brother in a 40-metre flat in Jaramana, a neighbourhood in Damascus that houses a large population of Christians who fled the war in other parts of the country. For most of his life he has struggled to support his family and keep free from need and poverty.
Before the war, Mousa worked in a beverages store in Jaramana and earned enough to cover household expenses. But during the conflict two explosions in front of his shop caused huge damage, forcing it to close. Mousa took an administrative position at a travel agency and did the cleaning work as well, to increase his income. Unfortunately, a mortar shell exploded near the office, and he was hit by fragments. It took him over three months to recover.
These calamities didn’t prevent Mousa from fighting for a life of dignity. He borrowed some money and started a perfume and gifts shop. He used to open his store from the early morning to midnight, to improve his income, but the coronavirus epidemic foiled his efforts. Even so, Mousa decided not to give up, so he took a night shift at a supermarket after closing his shop, and for more than four months he slept only four hours a day, but even with all that hard work, he was barely able to cover basic needs.
The Hope Centre: A chance for new beginnings
In July 2021, a Syrian organisation called Christian Hope Centre, supported by the Catholic Church, opened its first ever micro-projects centre in the Syrian capital, Damascus. The programme provides enterprising people like Mousa with funds to start new businesses or revive projects that were interrupted by the Syrian war. Workers and volunteers in Damascus assess requests for help in restarting businesses, usually in the form of equipment or training.
Mousa heard about the Hope Centre and asked for help in the form of a microproject, that was approved. The money lent allowed him to buy the goods and tools necessary to upgrade his shop and gave him the opportunity to preserve his project and improve his living conditions.
When ACN visits the shop, Mousa proudly presents his products. Despite all the difficulties he has been through, he is grateful to God for all the blessings in his life, and he explains that in the midst of the war and economic crisis, a small bottle of perfume can go a long way to making people feel normal and dignified.
More than just emergency aid
Christians in Syria say that the current economic crisis is worse than the 12 years of war they have endured, with 90% of the Syrian population now living below the poverty line. Many Christian families turn to the Church for help in the form of food parcels, rent assistance and educational aid. However, although they are grateful for the emergency support, most Christians want to be financially independent, with a stable job to support their families. This is precisely the aim of the micro-projects programme run by the Hope Centre, which is hoping to replicate the success of earlier projects in Aleppo and Homs.
Another member of the Christian community benefitting from ACN’s assistance to the Hope Centre is Tamara Gergos, whose family suffered greatly during the crisis in Syria. They went to Lebanon dreaming of a safe and secure life and trying to find a way to live abroad, but this turned out to be very difficult. High costs of living, and expensive school fees forced Tamara to return to Syria with her children, while her husband Hisham stayed in Lebanon and sometimes worked three jobs a day just to send money to his family.
After the huge explosion in the port of Beirut, however, the economic situation deteriorated and Hisham found it increasingly difficult to earn a living and send money to his family. Tamara did not surrender to hopelessness, however. She turned to the Hope Centre and asked for help to open a mini-market in Jaramana to provide for her family. Her small business has managed to cover their expenses and her husband has been able to leave Lebanon to return to work with his wife and be close to his children. Tamara is very grateful to ACN for this opportunity, but especially for allowing them to reunite the family.
Currently, the Hope Centre has 155 projects in Damascus, 83 of which are funded by ACN. Each beneficiary commits to repaying 20% of the loan within two years.