Former volunteer in Iraq, Vincent, 21 years old decided to renew his experience by going to Syria this time! Iraq and Syria have striking similarities but still have two very different cultures that make these two countries unique.
“My time in Syria began with an assignment in the Christian village of Maaloula, at the heart of the mountains in the north of Damascus. This is a charming village with an incredible cultural heritage, and I was struck by the beauty of the surroundings. The village is made of old houses painted in blue near churches with some of them built more than 1600 years ago and a great statue of Mary is contemplating the valley from the top of a hill. Three times a day, a beautiful angelus is sung and resonates in the village, this Christian equivalent of the Muslim muezzin call baffled me for my entire time in Maaloula. There, we kept ourselves busy by construction work; indeed the village was the theatre of violent fighting between the Al-Nosra militia and the pro-governmental forces. Five years after the end of the fighting, we are not short of work as many houses still need to be rebuilt. The job is not easy under the Syrian sun but I still cherish the memories of the moments of sharing and laughter with the villagers, making hard work easier.
After Maaloula, I went to Aleppo to work on another assignment for three weeks. I felt so privileged to be able to discover this city that I always dreamed of. It has a profoundly rich cultural heritage and is considered as one of the oldest cities of the world. On the road from Damascus to Aleppo the view of these ghostly towns, destroyed and deserted will always haunt me. In Aleppo we did various activities. The French classes were for me the occasion to have fulfilling interactions with students that were getting better every day that passed by. We also worked closely with the poor people of Aleppo which is always a stressing experience because of the horrendous testimonies that these people give of the war and by the state of living in which they are now. However, it is a great comfort to see the light in their eyes when we arrive, and we know that they are counting on us to give them an attentive ear and comfort in these difficult times. In Aleppo, another of our activities was to work with disabled people and I very much cherish these moments spent with them. These persons are always full of joy and I enjoyed very much playing and exchanging with them, whether it was by making jewellery or giving them help with their school assignments, I realized how important it can be to give someone attention for them to glow with happiness. Finally, we also worked on constructions sites, mostly in the Armenian neighbourhood of Midan that was badly hit by the war. In our time off, we had the opportunity to visit the many gems that this city possesses, with the Aleppo Citadel or the old Town, even though many of these great highlights of Aleppo were hit by the war, especially the old souk that is now in ruins.
Finally, and to finish my time in Syria I was sent to Homs, third biggest Syrian city. Here again, I discovered entire neighbourhoods shattered by the war with broken glass still paving the streets. Every week we went to the Qara monastery to offer our help for the many works that had to be done. We also spent quite a lot of time in Sadad, a small Christian village in the desert where we visited the elderly and gave French classes to adults and teenagers. My Syrian adventure ended on a high note with the Pentecost pilgrimage near Tartous with all the French and Syrian volunteers of SOS Chrétiens d’Orient.
As I return to France now I realize how lucky I was to be part of this fantastic adventure and to discover so many people and places. Syria is a great and beautiful country and I believe what I did there had an impact and I know that this experience helped me to become more mature, and I am sure that as a young adult I will be able to rely and to build on what I learned during these intense two months.