How ACN is helping the local Church in Homs to distribute aid for fuel and heating
Remond Ziade was 72 years old in that first year of the war in Homs, one of the cities most heavily involved in the fighting since the beginning of the conflict in Syria in 2011. Widespread street protests were met with harsh repression and Homs became the seedbed of some of the first groups of rebel fighters, earning it the nickname of “capital of the revolution”. The main areas of fighting were in the City of Old Homs and the Al-Hamidiya district, an area with a significant Christian presence. By around 2012 life had become unbearable and almost all the inhabitants fled the area, leaving only a few elderly people behind.
One of these was Remond, who had already lost several family members during the conflict but still refused to leave his home, a small apartment which he shared with his two sisters, Afef, aged 60 and Nawal, 74. They remained there, stoically, even though the bombs were falling closer and closer to the little alley at the end of which one could see the balcony of the dining room of his apartment. “One day, we were still sleeping when the impact of a mortar strike made us jump”, Nawal Ziade recalls. “The roof of our sitting room came down, along with the wall leading to my room. I don’t even know how we survived to tell the tale.”
At that point Nawal and Remond were forced to leave their home in Homs. They packed their cases with what little they could cram in and left, without knowing if they would ever be able to cross the threshold of their home again. “They evacuated us to a place outside Homs, where we lived for about a year, but we returned here just as soon as the war stopped, around the middle of 2014. It was practically uninhabitable, but this is our home, and we had no other better place to go to.”
Remond is now scarcely able to speak. A few years ago he had a psychological breakdown which left him partially paralysed and unable to speak. He remains sitting next to his sister on one of the sofas in the sitting room of the same apartment where the bomb fell. The room is arranged around a stove with a long chimney reaching right up to the ceiling and emerging through one of the walls on the outside, facing the street. “It is this that enables us to get through the cold winters here, and we also boil the water for our tea and hang out our washing around it to dry”, Nawal explains. It is an appliance greatly appreciated by this family of three elderly adults.
In fact one of the biggest problems today in Homs, along with the lack of food and medication, is the urgent need for fuel. The stove used by the Ziade family, like almost all of those in Syria, is fuelled by heating oil, a greatly sought-after commodity, given its high cost and short supply since the war. “We are extremely grateful for the aid we receive from the Church, thanks to the support of ACN International. It’s what gives us the encouragement to go on living here.”
Nawal brings in a fuel container which she keeps below the kitchen sink. It contains heating oil, and she uses it to refill the stove. Then she turns the key and, drop by drop, the liquid trickles out; then she lights it with a taper. The heat comes through immediately. “We’ll just put some water in a kettle and it will be ready in a moment”, she says with a smile to the group from ACN International who have come to visit her in her home.
As she drinks her tea, before the impassive gaze of Remond, Nawal explains to us that they are a Christian family who have always been very involved in the community. “Very close to here we have the church of Saint Marón, and I usually go to Mass every day, although I go less often than I would like because my health will not allow me. You could say that my brother and sister and I are true “children of the Church”, and my father and my uncle also used to work for the Syriac Catholic Bishop of Homs.”
After drinking our tea, she shows us other parts of their house where you can still see the cracks caused by the impact of the bombs. “We didn’t want to leave here, but we had no choice when the roof fell in on us.” Their apartment has been repaired now, thanks to support from the local Church and with funding from ACN International. “I want to say thank you, on my behalf and on behalf of my brother, to all those people who are thinking us. Your work is irreplaceable. And thank you not only for your financial aid, but also having come to visit us and let people know how we are living.”
The doorbell rings. It is Sara, her upstairs neighbour and her daughter Maryam. They have come to say hello to the visitors and spend a little time with Nawal and Remond. “It is very usual for our visitors to drop in and visit us from time to time, and besides they know that we are on our own for much of the time and need company”, says Nawal. “Come in, would you like a cup of tea?” Sara and Maryam sit down beside the little table with the kettle on it, which is now steaming steadily. “Now the only thing we want is to live in peace and to be allowed to go on preserving the values of peaceful coexistence that existed before the terrible catastrophe of the war.”