Jamil was sleeping on the 11th floor of his building with his parents and siblings when the earthquake struck Syria and Turkey in the early hours of Feb. 6, 2023. He recounts, "I don't know how we made it down all the floors, but we made it to safety." It took weeks before they could return home, during which time they were always hosted by the Salesians in Aleppo. Now, he continues, "We have returned home, but my father could not sleep; he had trouble breathing and his heart was pounding, so now he sleeps in a small store where he works."
The earthquake worsened the country's health situation, which was already dire due to the war. Cases of cholera, scabies, diarrhea, hepatitis, and measles have been detected, but due to a shortage of doctors and infrastructure, private hospitals, inaccessible to most, are the only solution. According to the United Nations, more than 9,000 buildings have collapsed in Syria, and as many are uninhabitable; it has been estimated that 8.8 million people are affected by this natural disaster and need emergency assistance.
To cope with the trauma and offer psychosocial support to the people of Aleppo, the Salesians in Damascus have so far organized three sessions, three days each, dedicated to hosting some 25-30 young animators from the Don Bosco House in Aleppo. "The initiative has been wonderful for the young people," reports Mateo Colmenares, a Salesian volunteer in Aleppo. "On the one hand, it was the first days since the earthquake when we all agreed we had rested and slept well; on the other hand, it was a way to recharge our batteries to continue helping those in need during this Holy Week."
Thousands of people are still unable to access their homes in Aleppo. The Salesians have resumed activities for 1,100 children and youth, not to mention the people affected by the earthquake. These days, many families go to the "Don Bosco House" center for Easter celebrations, in an atmosphere marked by hope as their only anchor.
"In the first weeks of March, all the people hosted by us have returned to their homes or to temporary rented housing. Every 20 days, we continue to help by distributing vouchers for food, hygiene products, and fuel to 200 families. For those who fear their homes are still unsafe, we have offered qualified engineers to assess the damage so they can receive financial assistance for rehabilitation," Colmenares explains.
In addition to a project to install solar panels at the Don Bosco House in Aleppo so that they are not dependent on fuel and generators during the 22 hours a day when there is no power, the Salesians will initiate another project to provide medical care and accompaniment to over 200 people whose cardiovascular health has deteriorated due to the earthquake and subsequent aftershocks.
So far, Salesian organizations at the international level have covered the needs of the earthquake victim population to the tune of 1.8 million euros; "Misiones Salesianas," the Salesian Mission Office in Madrid, alone has sent nearly 400,000 euros - earmarked for emergency aid in Aleppo and shelter at the Kafroun house (more than 100,000); educational response in Aleppo (77,000); installation of solar panels (50,000); and reconstruction projects to be implemented in the coming months (160,000).