The disastrous earthquakes of February 2023, in conjunction with protracted conflict, record levels of inflation, and a weakened domestic food system, have exacerbated the brutal socioeconomic conditions in Syria and dramatically increased humanitarian needs throughout 2023. Meanwhile, an unprecedented funding crisis forced the Word Food Program to progressively stop its food assistance program in the country, depriving 5.5 million Syrians of vital food aid. Today, a record number of 12.9 million Syrians (more than half of the total population) are food insecure.
But more than humanitarian needs, the earthquakes heavily traumatized people and tragically shook the lives of many people upside down. Pastor Abdallah, who leads an evangelical church in Aleppo, shares:
“During the war, Aleppo suffered a great deal. It was besieged and a huge part of the city was destroyed. At the time of the earthquake, people who had long been displaced were starting to come back after they finished rebuilding their homes. So, when the earthquake happened, it shattered the little hopes they had left and shook them to the core. There was great fear and a massive need for help.”
Katia, another partner from the Tartus governorate told us about a man who lost everything he had just rebuilt, and much more:
“Ahmad had been displaced to our area in northwestern Syria for eight years with his family. All this time, he worked incredibly hard to rebuild their home back in Aleppo. Six months before the earthquake, he was finally done and sent his family back, planning to join them soon. When the earthquake struck, his newly rebuilt home collapsed and his wife, daughter, son, granddaughter, and grandson all died.”
Helping people like Ahmad cannot be done in a few months, or only with material assistance. Thankfully, we have been able not only to sustain our humanitarian response in time, but also to complement it with much-needed psychosocial support.
On top of our initial three-month emergency response and for the past ten months, we have been empowering 14 local churches and faith-based organizations from diverse denominations to distribute close to 2,000 monthly food baskets and hygiene kits to families across the earthquake-affected areas. These winter months, we also distributed over 13,000 blankets, carpets, boots, jackets, and pajamas to help earthquake-affected families stay warm.
To respond to the trauma and huge psychological needs created by the earthquakes, we also complemented our response with staff care retreats for our local partners – with sessions led by experienced counsellors and/or psychologists – as well as psychosocial support (PSS) trainings for 30 local partner staff and volunteers. These trainings equipped participants with basic counselling skills that will help them provide individual and group counselling sessions to the people they support, identify cases that need referral, and properly refer the cases to the appropriate specialized organization. The trainings covered topics such as stress management, trauma-informed care, and effective communication in times of crisis.
Thanks to this holistic approach and because our partner churches have enough time to develop relationships with the families they serve, the impact of our response extends far beyond the material assistance provided. At a time when families might feel abandoned amidst their suffering, our local partners have emerged as a lifeline of hope which points them to the only Kingdom that cannot be shaken. Pastor Abdallah confirms:
“The families we support have no one else to help them and they feel so much joy and relief to know that someone is finally caring for them. But this is not the only way the assistance blesses them. Many people are curious to know more about our faith and ask many questions. We can see their eagerness and a new sparkle in their eyes. Many started coming to church, so much so that today, any church service, prayer meeting, or other gathering we have is full of people from all backgrounds.”
Our hope is that the faith of both our local partners and the families they serve would increase so much that they would be able to say, like the psalmist:
“I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Psalm 16:8