Since 2011, the violent civil war in Syria has become one of the worst humanitarian crises in human history. The war has internally displaced more than 7.6 million people and claimed the lives of over 300,000 more. As terror and indiscriminate violence moves through the country, more than half of Syria's population - 12 million people - have been forced to leave their homes. These displaced populations have limited access to food, water and health services.
The crisis is serious and the need is substantial. Week of Compassion serves those in need in Syria though many of our partners, such as the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC).
IOCC has a longstanding presence in Syria and is one of the largest humanitarian networks in the country. As a Christian relief organization, IOCC relies on the close networks built through the Orthodox Church to reach isolated populations. Indeed, Mark Ohanian, director of IOCC's Overseas Programs, was on the ground in Syria in June of this year. Reflecting on that experience, he explains that working through the Church is essential to IOCC's ability to serve vulnerable and often isolated populations in this region.
Ohanian estimates that three-quarters of the Syrian population are in need of some form of assistance. Water is a key need. In Aleppo, two million people have no access to running water and have had to resort to collecting water from unsafe sources.
The situation is especially critical for displaced families with small children. Mohammad fled with his wife and seven small children to a safer area of Aleppo last spring when their neighborhood came under attack. "We escaped from the fighting and now suffer from such extreme poverty," he said.
Mohammad supports his wife and his seven children with wages earned as a day laborer, but work isn't available every day. His greatest worry is that he can't provide safe water for his children and is forced to keep water in an old rusted barrel. "I know that when one of my children drinks from the water stored in a rusted barrel, they will get sick. However, I have no other choice - the tanks are so expensive and I cannot pay for one."
In Aleppo, Week of Compassion, through IOCC, has responded to the urgent water needs of displaced Syrians like Mohammad by distributing heavy duty plastic storage tanks to 225 displaced families. For Mohammad, the tank has eased concerns about the health of his children. "I received a big, clean water tank," Mohammad said. "My dream has come true and from now on, my children will drink clean water again."
Week of Compassion and IOCC support this ministry and more. Grants also help repair and renovate temporary shelters and apartments; furnish therapeutic programs to help victims of violence with stress management, nightmares, and PTSD; and supply educational kits for children who have been forced to leave school.
These funds also provide medical supplies for hospitals in Aleppo, Damascus, and Hama and support independent organizations providing medical assistance in the region. With less than half of the country's hospitals still functioning and the public healthcare system crippled, this work is of the utmost importance. IOCC addresses the growing crisis by providing lifesaving and disability preventing surgeries and other lifesaving treatments.
Alaa, a 25-year-old shopkeeper, credits IOCC for saving his life after he suffered the loss of an eye and serious internal injuries when his shop was hit during an attack. "My injuries were bad and life-threatening," said Alaa. "Though I lost one eye, it could be worse if you didn't help me quickly with surgery."
Since 2012, IOCC has provided relief to nearly 3 million people inside Syria.
Yet, there is much more work to be done. Ohanian recognizes that despite being one of the most active relief organizations in the country, IOCC only scratches the surface of the need. More funds, time, and attention are yet required.
Even in the face of such overwhelming need, Ohanian maintains that IOCC must continue to provide any and all possible relief work. In fact, he asks, "If we are not there doing this work, who will?" In other words, if Week of Compassion and its partners do not work tirelessly to provide water, food, shelter, medical care and more to the people of Syria, then many Syrians will simply go without. Guided by the belief that every single person is beloved by God, we know that such negligence would be unacceptable. Thus, we are thankful for the work that IOCC is doing and grateful for your continued support in these critical, life-saving and extraordinary ministries.
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