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Suffolk Sister speaks of earthquake-hit Syria work

A Suffolk Catholic Sister has spoken movingly of her work in war-torn and earthquake-hit Syria at St Mary’s in Ipswich. Jean Johnson reports.

It was a wonderful privilege on Saturday May 13 to listen to Sister Helen give an illustrated talk: ‘For love of Syria’ at St Mary’s, Woodbridge Road, Ipswich. She is a Sister of Jesus and Mary who worked in our parish for around 160 years and still have a community in nearby Felixstowe. They have many overseas projects but the focus was on Syria, which Sr Helen visits regularly. She was last there in March.

While their mission is now centred in Damascus they have outreach to several parts of the country through an army of lay helpers and funds from aid agencies.

Syria has endured years of conflict and more recently the terrible earthquake in the area around Aleppo. Help in these contexts for the local people is the focus of the work of the Sisters.  During the war the sisters opened a small factory making jeans and so provided paid employment for local men.

Maaloula is a town where Aramaic, the language of Jesus, is still spoken. It was brutally attacked by ISIS. Through funding from aid agencies such as ACN, houses are being repaired.  A small factory for making underwear, pyjamas, etc was started during the war years and provides paid employment for local women.

In different places local women who can knit and crochet are making items such as small fish and crosses which can then be brought back to the UK. They can be purchased from Aid to the Church in Need.

Throughout Syria, many have been traumatised by the situation. In Damascus the Sisters run music and art therapy sessions for children as well as providing spaces for prayer and a monthly Holy Hour, welcomed by these people of faith.

Training sessions, ranging from how to write a cv to electronics courses, can help people towards gaining employment. Micro projects such as those currently running in Aleppo, Homs and Damascus by “Hope Centre”, have helped hundreds of people to obtain tools, such as a small digger for a local farmer – the necessary tools are bought, meaning the recipient is able to work, and they repay the cost over three years.

At the moment in Damascus 19 families, displaced by the earthquake in Aleppo, are being helped with the most basic necessities.

This is just a taster of what the Sisters and their small army of companions in mission are doing with help from several Aid Agencies. It was a joy for Christians from several local Catholic and Anglican churches to learn of the imaginative support being given by the Sisters to the people of Syria.

Photos show Sr Helen from Felixstowe.