‘The bomb of poverty’
Syria and its people no longer make the news headlines, but according to Tony O’Riordan SJ, who works with the Jesuit Refugee Service there, the once-beautiful country is suffering greatly and needs the help of the Irish people and government.
In this interview with Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications, he says, shockingly, that Syrians have told him they feel they were better off when the country was being bombed.
Poverty is rampant, he says, with parents choosing between taking life-saving medicine for themselves or buying bread to feed their children. They are in a state of depression, seeing no end in sight to the trauma visited on them by external forces – so severe that it would stay with them even if their poverty was eradicated in the morning, according to Tony.
In the midst of all this the Jesuit Refugee Service is running programmes which give some hope to the Syrians who can avail of the services. JRS, says Tony, provides medical treatment for about 40,000 Syrians each year.
They prioritise children and have play time and informal education programmes for those who have had to go and work for their families out of necessity. They also offer psycho-social support for those traumatised by the war.
One place in particular, where Tony himself works, gives him a glimmer of hope for the future. The JRS run centres where people of different faiths, including Muslims and Christians, can come together and do crafts and hobbies and get to know one another. They form relationships, which can be their first step toward reconciliation, particularly for those who were on different sides during the war. “It’s one of my favourite programmes,” he says, “You can call it ‘peacebuilding’ or ‘social cohesion’ but for me, it’s sowing hope for the future.”