Kidnapped in Syria one year ago
One year ago, on 29 July 2013, our dear friend and mentor Father Paolo Dall'Oglio SJ disappeared in Raqqa, Syria. He went on his own and with his free will to the capital of the freshly proclaimed "Islamic State in Iraq and Syria" for negotiating the release of hostages taken by this extremist group and for building peace. We phoned right before his arrival and talked about the danger. He was perfectly aware of it, but he had to go. Having dedicated his life to Syria and to the love of Islam, he could not turn his back to this darkest hour in Syria's modern history. We have no news since he entered the base of the ISIS fighters. Many rumours are circulating, but there is no formal proof either for his survival nor for this death. We all hope he is still alive and we join the call of his family upon his kidnappers to give answers.
A month of spiritual solidarity
One year after the establishment of our first Peace Centre in the North of Lebanon, we are entering again the Holy Month of Ramadan: a special time for the about 1.6 billion Muslims in the world and a special time for the millions of Syrians who had to flee their homes. For us, it is also the time to bring together different religions and beliefs in a genuine expression of spiritual solidarity. We started the second edition of our special programme "Ramadan Volunteers", which is bringing short-term volunteers from around the world to our Peace Centre. Throughout the summer, they are helping us in our response to the educational emergency of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. They are giving international solidarity a human face.
Graduation ceremony at R&R's informal camp school
In June 2014, we concluded the first school-year of our educational activities in the premises and surroundings of our Peace Centre in the North of Lebanon. With the help of more than 800 individual donors, we could provide regular education to more than 400 Syrian and Lebanese students in need. Most of them had been out of school for more than 2 years. Some have never been to school.
Opening on 20 March at Rogue Space in Chelseay
If you live in New York or if you have friends there, please spread the word about the exhibition of artworks from the children of our Syrian refugee camp school in the North of Lebanon that is going to open on 20 March 2014 at 6 PM at Rogue Space Chelsea, midst in Manhattan. We reported already about the amazing work Kevin from New York and Jerar from Syria did for introducing our kids to new art techniques. Now you can admire the results and buy one of their art works. The benefits of this auction will go 100% back to the camp school. In the comping days, you will also be able to purchase one of the art works online.
Please follow this link for learning more about the exhibition and about the work of Rogue Foundation that sponsored it: http://www.chelseagalleryspace.com/
You can also read a press article about the project and the exhibition following this link: http://www.eyesin.com/art/2014/syria-childrens-footprints-capture-horror/
Sewing and accessoires courses for women
Besides our daily school classes for Syrian refugee and Lebanese host communities, we started to develop vocational training modules for giving also an economic perspective to those who need to earn their living. Refugees do not want to rely on charity alone, they want to take back control of their lives and work.
Since December 2013, a group of women from the refugee camp of Minyara, close to our Peace Centre, are gathering five times a week to attend sewing and jewelry workshops taught by experienced teachers we hired. The impact is already visible: the sewing group made first deliveries of school uniforms and the women of the jewelry class opened a small shop for accessories.
You can also purchase these items through our national chapters in Europe, empowering hence the women and supporting refugees to help themselves. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you are interested in a delivery.
... and happy 2014, year of hope!
One year ago, on 2 January 2013, we established our new NGO “Relief & Reconciliation for Syria”. It has been a year of struggle, a year of grief and probation. But thanks to your support, it has also been a year of grace. Today, it is time to say thank you and to look ahead.
The situation in Syria is getting worse every day. According to the UN, more than two-thirds of Syria’s population has been displaced. Lebanon alone is hosting between 1 and 2 million refugees- about a third of its own population. The stories we have heard and seen in our work in the field remind me of the worst memories of our history in Germany and Europe. Our fears to see the Syrian Revolution being pushed into sectarian war are turning into reality. The Syrian regime and other actors have chosen this path in cold blood to maintain their grasp on power. But there is hope. We are amazed by the deep sense of humanity we encounter in every conversation with Syrian refugees.
In July 2013, we started our operations in the North of Lebanon with the opening of our first Peace Centre for the youth in need. We united all major communities of the region around this common cause. At the big Peace Iftar we organised in Ramadan, Christians and Muslims of the region were united in their solidarity with Syrian refugees. Sunnis and Alawites, who are on the opposite sides of the conflict, were praying together for the first time here. Until the end of the year, 20 international volunteers stayed at our Peace Centre and joined our local staff in the teaching of languages and the development of the arts. More than 300 young refugees are receiving regular education now. We are also providing them with psychosocial support and material aid where needed.
Artistic works and games after school
Besides our peacebuilding and our educational work, providing regular classes to more than 300 Syrians and Lebanese, we have started to complement school with some recreational activities for those of them living in harsh conditions in the informal camps at the Lebanese/Syrian border. In the end of November, just before the start of snow and rain, Kevin from New York joined us to offer a special art workshop to refugee kids, joined by an exiled Syrian artist. For more than a week, our school children were invited to draw and paint their dreams for the future. We also started to resume the cross-country games of this summer, giving the youth the chance to forget for a few hours the daily hardship of the camps.
One year R&R Syria - call for more and better aid!
In the end of October 2012, we met for the first time in Brussels for building our new NGO in response to the Syrian crisis. On 2 January 2013, we met the Belgian notary for the official foundation. One year later, the first Peace Centre is up and running. More than 300 refugee children are receiving regular education through our staff. Time to meet again!
R&R Syria has by now more than 120 members in 16 national chapters. Delegates came from across Europe and the Middle East on their own costs to meet in Brussels during the weekend of 7/8 December 2013 for an Extraordinary General Assembly. The first year of exercise has not been concluded yet, but we needed to discuss our future development. We are planning to open a second Peace Centre in Lebanon and perhaps a third in Turkey in 2014. Also, we were looking for ways to channel more aid inside Syria where it is very much needed.
New campaign for more educational support
With the help of more than 1,000 individual donors, we have achieved our initial fundraising objective for the establishment of a first Peace Centre at the Lebanese border to Syria. Thank you all for your trust and generosity! Your support also allowed us to realise our summer volunteer programme and to fill our Peace Centre with life. Profiting from the experience of the intensive foreign classes given over summer by our international volunteers, we have decided to extend our educational activities beyond our own Peace Centre and we are asking for your help for doing so. As from now, you can decide yourself where your money goes. Besides our Educational Programme Line, you can also fund our humanitarian aid activities.
World-wide solidarity with refugees in need
The past two months have seen 18 international volunteers arrive at our first Peace Centre in Bkarzla, Lebanon and fill it with life. They came to bring relief and reconciliation to the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees stranded in the North of Lebanon alone. They came from the most diverse origins all over the world: from Mexico to India, but also Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, the UK and the US… and of course from Lebanon. You can read at our special volunteers blog more about their personal experience.
Thanks to their outstanding commitment and passion, four weeks of intensive language classes took place, assisting 60 Syrian and Lebanese children, 47 of whom successfully completed their class. A day-care was established to give children under the age of 10 a chance to play, sing dance and draw in a safe and peaceful environment, together with other children from different communities. We held weekly cross-country games, where up to 80 children participated each week in swimming in the river, hiking in the mountains and various games. Our volunteers also participated in our outreach activities, meeting local refugees in the various camps that surround our Peace Centre and hearing their stories, building thus positive relationships with them that will set the foundation for our future work in the area.
Uniting Sunnis, Christians and Alawis
Report on our first Peace Iftar uniting Sunnis, Alawis and Christians in solidarity with Syrian refugees in the Akkar (Lebanon), written by R&R member Isabella Eisenberg.
On Monday, 29 July 2013 (20 Ramadan 1434), an unlikely group of fellow diners gathered in front of a beautiful mountain top restaurant in the village of Miniara, in the Akkar district of North Lebanon, less than 15 minutes by car from the Syrian border. R&R Syria united representatives from all religious communities and groups present in Akkar for a Peace Iftar in favour of Syrian refugees from Qusayr, Homs and other parts of the country. Amongst those attending were representatives of Sunni and Alawi groups who are fighting each other a few kilometers further South (in Tripoli) and a few kilometers further North (in Syria). A potentially explosive mixture, and yet – if managed well – a mixture with huge potential.
Launch of Peace Iftars in Lebanon and beyond
We wish all our Muslim members and friends a joyful and holy month of Ramadan. We have started our special Ramadan activities with Syrian refugees in Lebanon but also in our national chapters in Europe. Muslims or not: many of us have started fasting in spiritual solidarity. We all hope that Ramadan 2013 will become a month of repentance and reconciliation.
We started into the holy month with a March into Ramadan with Syrian refugee kids in Halba (Lebanon), close to our first Peace Centre. Together with a local partner organisation, we had a cheerful walk, ending in the distribution of several hundreds of Iftar packs to poor families in need. In the coming weeks, we are organising Peace Iftars with Syrian refugees and with different communities in Lebanon: Sunni, Shiite, Catholic, Orthodox, Alawite and Druze. We wish to contribute a little bit to easing the tensions between Sunnis and Shiites that are currently devoring Syria, Lebanon and many other countries of the Middle East.
First-aid kits for survivors from Qusayr
The preparations for the opening of our first Peace Centre for young people from different communities affected by the Syrian crisis have reached their final stage. We signed the rental agreement for a great house in the North of Lebanon, hardly 10 km away from the Syrian border. It will open on 15 July and shall be fully operational by the beginning of September.
In preparation of our small opening and we have started the distribution of first-aid items to newly arriving refugees who had to flee the hell of Qusayr. After a thorough evaluation of the needs and of the crisis response in the field, we decided to distribute emergency-aid items that are not included into the standard operational procedures of the UNHCR to new arriving refugees.
Ramadan Volunteers in Lebanon
You want to help Syrian refugees in need? You have an interest in interfaith encounters? You have experience with teaching kids sports, arts, languages or other? Come and join us this summer in Lebanon as one of our first international volunteers! We are seeking dedicated men and women who are motivated to gain a lifetime experience with helping refugees in the field.
A few days ago, we have signed the rental agreement for our first Peace Centre in the North of Lebanon, where Syrian refugees and Lebanese hosts in need can find relief and reconciliation. As the opening is coinciding with the holy month of Ramdan, when Muslims are supposed to fast and refrain from all worldly activities, we decided to start our activities in the Centre with a special summer programme responding to the urgent need for interfaith solidarity with those suffering from the Syrian crisis.
Opening of our first Peace Centre
We signed today the rental agreement for our first Peace Centre in the North of Lebanon as from 1 July 2013. The house is situated in the beautiful small village of Bkarzla in the Akkar district, only 12 km from the Lebanese border with Syria. More than 200,000 refugees have become stranded in this district alone, often in poorest conditions.
The house has a surface of about 700 m² and a huge garden. It is situated in a green and secure environment to allow beneficiaries to breathe. It is fully equipped, including 3 huge multi-purpose rooms and 6 bed rooms. The bed rooms will be transformed into offices and further class or meeting rooms over the coming weeks. But over the summer, they will accommodate our first international volunteers. We will use the opportunity of the holy month of Ramadan to start activities gradually.
Eye-witness report from Akkar, Lebanon
Starting our operations for relief and reconciliation amongst both Syrian refugees and Lebanese hosts in the Akkar district of Northern Lebanon, our field team is witnessing the influx of survivors from the combat area of Qusayr (Syria).
The stories we hear are horrifying. One survivor said he had buried 110 corpses with his own hands on the way between Qusayr and Lebanon. Entire families had to walk for up to 10 days in the mountains, without food, water or any other supplies. Once they arrive in Arsal, many of the survivors head on to other regions of Lebanon to find a safe place. Those in dire need of medical treatment are received by the Lebanese Red Cross and distributed to hospitals in different regions of Lebanon.
But this is merely the beginning of another torture. Despite the incredible efforts many Lebanese make for accommodating Syrian refugees, we have received alarming reports about the refusal of emergency aid. Most of Lebanese hospitals are private institutions and receive wounded refugees only against cash. No money, no treatment! Some hospitals are reported to have doubled prices for Syrian refugees.
Our brand-new Fundraising Brochure is available, resuming the text of our campaign. Please download the PDF file in the document section of our website and please send it per email to all your family and to your friends! A French and a German version will also be available very soon. Please contact us if you want to receive a copy in high-definition to be printed out!
Relief & Reconciliation under hacker attack
We couldn't believe our eyes. Last Thursday, our team was about to take the next step in our fundraising campaign. The new brochure was ready to be sent. And then: blackout! All of the sudden, our campaign site on Indiegogo went dark. All donors who had contributed several thousands US$ until then, received an automatic email saying they had been reimbursed "either at your request or at the request of the campaign administrator". I received such a mail as well for my personal donation. Being myself the campaign administrator, I was quite astonished.