Last week, 6th March 2023 Samara our partner for our Syrian appeal was in Aleppo, she made the following video 4 days ago.
After years of devastating war, a major earthquake has now hit Turkey and Syria, destroying many buildings and killing thousands of people.
Jacob’s Well Appeal has been sending trucks of humanitarian and medical aid into this war-torn nation for years, in partnership with “Samara’s Aid”, a Christian organisation that runs medical centres and poverty relief projects in various cities across Syria.
To read more about our Syrian appeal click here
Here is the latest report from Samara’s aid, our partners in Syria who just visited the scene of the earthquake in Mid march to assess how best to help the people.
This week, the World Food Programme (WFP) published a report painting a dire picture of the situation in Syria stating
“Some 12.1 million people, more than 50% of the population, are currently food insecure and a further 2.9 million are at risk of sliding into hunger. Meanwhile, recent data show that malnutrition is on the rise, with stunting and maternal malnutrition rates reaching levels never seen before.”
“‘Bombardment, displacement, isolation, drought, economic meltdown, and now earthquakes of staggering proportions. Syrians are remarkably resilient but there’s only so much that people can take,” says Kenn Crossley, WFP Country Director in Syria. “At what point does the world say enough?’
“The February 6 earthquakes came as food prices in Syria were already soaring. The selection of standard food items that WFP uses to track food inflation has almost doubled in price in 12 months and is 13 times more expensive than three years ago. The upwards trajectory is expected to continue.
“The recent earthquakes have highlighted the urgent need for increased humanitarian assistance in Syria, not only for people hit by the earthquakes, but also for those who were already grappling with sky-rocketing food prices, a fuel crisis, and consecutive climate shocks. Food and fuel prices are at their highest in a decade after years of inflation and currency devaluation.
“Stunting rates among children have reached 28 percent in some parts of the country…
“A country that used to be self-sufficient in food production now ranks among the six countries with the highest food insecurity in the world, with heavy dependency on food imports. Damaged infrastructure, high cost of fuel and drought like conditions have slashed Syria’s wheat production by 75 percent.”
The video above gives the headlines from my recent time in Aleppo showing some of the circumstances on the ground from the damage done and the situations people are living and staying in, to a few of the challenges facing humanitarian actors in the area. It is a simplified snapshot of a much bigger and more complicated situation. Please take some time to watch it and digest the reality in Syria.
These earthquakes are a disaster upon a far bigger disaster. They have stolen and devastated thousands of lives and homes. They have forced many more people from their homes through fear. They have triggered numerous medical issues and significant levels of psychological distress.
We are actively serving earthquake affected areas, and our Syrian charity has also just opened a new branch in an area that will enable more of our humanitarian aid to be channeled into the areas that have been significantly impacted, but to distribute our aid on our terms. This is critical to ensuring that our aid reaches the most needy people.
Over the last weeks we have had many attending our medical centre with physical problems if not caused by, then certainly exacerbated by the stress and trauma of surviving earthquake after earthquake. While I was there I saw a mother and (adult) daughter who both came with cardiac issues last week. They had some mild symptoms before the earthquakes, but nothing that either of them thought to seek medical attention for. Since the earthquakes their symptoms suddenly became very pronounced, needing medical attention. I could see in their eyes and faces, especially the younger woman, the burden they are carrying. Since the first earthquakes she has refused to sleep inside their house as she is too scared of what could happen if a bigger earthquake comes, reducing her home to rubble over her head. There are still so many people like this, sleeping in cars or in tents or away from their homes.
Others have come with exacerbations of existing conditions which suddenly became life-threatening, surgical emergencies needing urgent, life-saving operations. Others have come who are staying in the area now as they are unable to return to their damaged homes in the nearby city, or who are afraid to return. There are still children not going to school, and people have been struggling to keep appointments as life priorities are just different for many people at the moment.
I am more grateful than I can express to everyone who has supported and donated since the start of our earthquake appeal. I’m so thankful to all the individuals, churches, schools, charities, mosques and other community groups who have collected aid for us to send. We will continue to collect new aid in Brighton which will be for the wider needs in Syria, as we can see clearly that the earthquakes have caused significant devastation and need, on top of the unprecedented 15.3 million who were in need before the earthquakes, and who are still desperately in need.
If all the aid entering Syria now from many different sources is channeled only to people affected by the earthquakes, a large amount of aid will be focused on a smaller (but very significant) group in need while the even larger group in need goes without. If this happens it will cause significant problems both for the NGOs serving people on the ground, and also for the larger group of people in need. If working this way, the charities trying to help will instead create problems. This is a unique and heartbreaking challenge that comes as a result of an earthquake hitting an existing, very significant disaster zone wracked with instability, as opposed to hitting a stable country.
Normally I wouldn’t return to Syria so soon after a trip there in January, but it was important for me to see and understand the situation for myself following the earthquakes and to ensure that we are taking the right approach in how we direct the donations people have so generously given and continue to give. Having seen the situation for myself I can see that we need to focus on the millions affected by the existing, long standing disaster in Syria – people affected by the war, economic collapse, food crisis, medical crisis, education crisis, water crisis, as well as the earthquake crisis, rather than singling out just one disaster. We now need to direct new financial donations coming in towards our medical projects and also our two centres supporting orphans, vulnerable children and widows – especially the monthly running costs – which can be done by setting up a regular standing order. These projects are each of vital importance as they are long term projects that can make a life-changing difference for many, for the long term. Consistency is essential. For an overview of these projects please watch this video showing the highlights of our work from last year. Click HERE.
One of the additional benefits of visiting Syria in January, then returning in February, was that I was able to see the heart-warming, life-changing effects that our medical centre is having on some of the patients I met in January. It was incredible to see the improvements! One lady who I met in January had Raynaud’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder, who not only had white/blue fingers but open sores on all of her fingers and thumbs – I had never seen such a severe case. I sat with her when she came for a a follow up appointment last week, and was astounded and so encouraged to see all her fingers completely healed and looking well perfused. The huge difference our treatment has made was incredible to see. Another poor farmer had visited us suffering a range of cardiac symptoms including chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath on exertion, fatigue, and these symptoms disturbed her sleep. We gave her a full assessment and cardiac echo, through which a hole in her heart was discovered. She is a poor lady who has never had any kind of investigations for her medical problems before, and her hands and fingers had dirt ingrained in them from the manual farming work she does every day to feed her children. When she returned last week, her radiant smile and relief were such a wonderful sight. In this short time, with the right treatment, all her symptoms had disappeared completely. She described how, for the first time in years, she had been able to sleep comfortably without interruption, and she is more free to carry out her work each day. We have more patients like this than I can list.
Earlier this year I wrote to you all about a poor window raising her two orphaned granddaughters, who was going blind due to cataracts. She couldn’t find a charity willing to help her. Some of you kindly donated the funds needed to cover the hospital costs so that our opthalmologist could do the phacoemulsification surgery to restore her sight. I watched the surgery for the first eye while I was there in January, which went well. The lady kept showering me with kisses while I was there and thanking God. Last week, I met her again, this time with her vision fully restored, and with more hugs and kisses – Al Hamdulillah! (praise God!). Now with 20/20 vision, she returned while I was there in February with her two granddaughters. They had symptoms associated with congenital heart disease. One returned for an ultrasound, which revealed a ventricular septal defect (hole in the heart) After being started on conservative treatment, this orphaned girl now has relief from the symptoms she has suffered for a long time. There is no way this family could afford this kind of medical investigation if we weren’t offering it without charge. One of the challenges we have is that many of the patients we see really need cardiac surgery which they cannot afford. We are making plans for how we will be able to carry this out in the future on our own premises.
We have noticed a significant number of people with congenital heart disease, who have had symptoms for a long time, some of whom have visited many doctors and who have had numerous investigations, only to be told there was nothing wrong. Equally there are many who come to us because they have no other hope to see a doctor as they are too poor. For these people, an accurate diagnosis is proving to be life-changing and they express, sometimes with great emotion, how they had never before felt that any doctor they saw had listened to them properly or examined them thoroughly, asking in depth questions. Many of them express the trust they have gained in our team and the relief in finally finding out what has been plaguing them for years and how to manage it. They feel “seen” and “heard”. Their symptoms are not just psychological issues as they had been told until now. They had the symptoms of treatable conditions which they are now experiencing relief from, and this is such an encouragement for us all to see.
I was so touched also by a pure-hearted young man with Down’s Syndrome. People with this condition have a high incidence of congenital heart disease, yet he had reached adulthood without anyone having looked at his heart. We diagnosed an Atrial Septal Defect (hole
in the heart) and have been able to give him treatment to help his symptoms.
As a not for profit centre that must be able to be self-sustaining, we need to balance all the free care we give with some patients who can pay for their care in order to cover the costs of keeping our service running. We would love to serve everyone without charge, but there are staff salaries to pay, equipment to buy, and supplies that need to be covered for us to function. There are also surgical procedures that are needed and currently have to be done elsewhere at the moment which increases the costs. Without paying paying patienss too, it would be a struggle for us to provide a service to the poor. Some of our supporters contribute to these costs by monthly standing order, which means we are able to serve a larger number of poor people free of charge. These monthly standing orders are life-saving.
One person I have encountered a couple of times over the years in Syria, and who we have always felt very cautious of, arrived one day at our centre. I was moved and humbled when I heard his story as I had known nothing before about him as a person or his history. In the early years of the war he was a soldier and was shot a number of times by a sniper, and the bullets penetrated his heart. It is a miracle that he could be taken to a hospital quickly enough to have emergency surgery to save his life. The friend he was with was also shot and bled to death in front of his eyes, while he too lay bleeding and terrified. He was told to put handfuls of soil onto his wounds to try to stop him bleeding to death. I can barely imagine going through such a scary and traumatic experience.
He talked softly about reliving this trauma every day for years, watching his friend die again and again in his memory. He talked about the reoccurring, disturbing dreams he has had since this traumatic event, and I had to suppress my tears as I listened to him sharing his heart and his story. In every brother and sister of ours, behind every front that a person puts up, lies a deeply personal life experience. It’s so easy to form an opinion of someone based on the image they present, which can sometimes be challenging, without understanding anything at all about them or their life experiences which shape them. I’m grateful that God gave me the opportunity to be more humble in my understanding of others through hearing his story.
He told us that not one doctor he had seen since his traumatic event had wanted to sit and listen to what he had been through. They prescribed antidepressants then sent him away. And the truth is that professional psychological and psychiatric help in Syria carry great stigma, especially for someone like him. We listened to him and what he had been through, and gave him time. In that time we saw a totally different man – someone vulnerable, hurting and in great need – and I told him that I believed God had saved his life for a purpose.
He described some cardiac symptoms which might have been attributed to his injuries, but no one had checked his heart since his injury twelve years ago. We did an echo for him which made it clear that there are some other underlying issues in his heart, unconnected with the shooting. We gave him time and empathy, we investigated and gave him a new course of treatment, and in turn his heartfelt gratitude was so evident. He wore his heart on his sleeve when he left, emotionally kissing Dr A on both cheeks then kissing my hand before he walked out. Personally and spiritually, I think I gained more from the encounter than this patient did. I’m thankful that God opened my eyes to see the injured soul behind the tough man.
There are so many in need in Syria, and we find ourselves helping all manner of people from different backgrounds and situations. This is what it means to run a true, humanitarian, Christian medical service. We demonstrate God’s unconditional love for everyone and anyone. With our limited service we are not yet equipped to help everyone. Sometimes we find ourselves serving the people no one else wants to or cared to serve. Whether the orphan, the disabled, the widow or mother of one of the jihadists, the poor person who has not a penny to their name, or the person that many doctors have put through multiple expensive procedures without giving them a real diagnosis or treatment. Sadly we find that the people who are able to pay for their care sometimes find themselves in a worse position than those who can’t afford any care at all. There are sadly many doctors who charge a lot to carry out procedures, while not giving a real diagnosis or treatment plan. Trust is one of the most important aspects of providing medical care to anyone. So many of the patients who come to us start by saying they don’t trust doctors…
Please pray for our team in Syria, for protection from those who persecute them. This is an ongoing, relentless battle for our team. Please pray for them to be encouraged and refreshed and for God to increase their stamina to keep running this marathon. Please pray that their integrity will overcome the dishonesty that surrounds them, and that truth and light will shine above the deception and darkness that is now so prevalent in this broken country.
Thank you for your support, your love and the kindness and generosity you continue to show to our brothers and sisters in need.
Samara and the team