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Women's Empowerment Projects on Top of Aga Khan Priorities in Syria




DAMASCUS,(ST)_ Woman Empowerment has been the preoccupation  of projects carried out by the Aga Khan  Network  for cultural services.

Within the context of its initiative on social and economic development, concentrated in Aleppo on institutional activities,  Agha khan Network  targeted mainly mothers, girls and children in the old city . The activities covered education sessions for housewives and girls about Summer diseases and awareness campaign and detection of breast cancer detection

In 2011, the Network organized an environmental course on economical household plantations for 300 women in Aleppo. Other courses were also held for women in Aleppo on hair cut for ladies and facial care, English language and literacy courses, in addition to getting women involved in planning and implementation of projects.

Other activities included  forming groups  of women working in  cheese and dairy , olive products , home vegetarian garden,   training  women from poor families on  skills related to sewing recyclable bags, as part of the Aga Khan Network set policy to empower women as  the main sponsor of the family.

T. Fateh




The Thorn Bird !




Armed terrorists with dirty hands, killed our neighbor, when he was about to enter his building, his car collided with the door of the building, we all heard the noise of the collision, I looked out from our balcony, I saw people trying to move him off his car, he was still alive, although he was bleeding, he smiled and cried “ Long live Syria” he was still saying it, until he died.

I heard his voice, as if he were singing, the music seemed to come from all of him, the sound poured out with such force and conviction that I wanted to sing too, he seemed to be singing about the rising sun, about a new day full of hope, about beautiful flowers and the gentle fields, about cool, flowing, sparkling waters to wash all the blood away, he was just singing to Syria with all of his being.

Here I remembered the legend of (the thorn bird): There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than other creatures on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it finds one. Then singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine .And, dying, it rises above its agony to out carol the lark and the nightingale. One superlative song, existence the price. But the whole world stills to listen, and God in His heaven smiles. For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain…Or so says the legend”.

I felt resurrection inside me, about new possibilities, about new ways of looking at life, about a new day full of hope, as long as we have such people, about the beauty of creation, and a great love to Syria, that washes away mistakes, hatred, and rancor. With all our being, with all our strength, let’s just sing to Syria.


  Butheina  Alnounou

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Happy Eid to Syria


Eid is coming soon, I wish a happy Eid to everyone in our beloved Syria. Everyone wants to celebrate the festival with joy as our country is clean of terrorists. Eid used to be a very nice occasion that people put on nice clothes, spend a lot of money on buying sweets, cookies  and food. They visit friends, neighbors, and relatives; it used to be a special event full of happiness.

However, all of us don’t feel well during this Eid. We keep thinking of those who become displaced due to terrorist’s attacks, and can’t afford a meal, or buy new clothes to their children. We have to think how we can add the color of happiness to the Eid of those who have experienced hard times, because of terrorists who displaced them. The joy of Eid will be marred, if even one remains hungry, uncared for.

Even if we cannot afford them money, we can always do something to brighten their lives when we stop being selfish, and thinking only of our fun, pleasure, gaiety, and happiness.

To me, the best way to help those people is to give them a hand up rather than a hand down.” Don’t give fish to the poor, teach them how to catch the fish."  ( I like this saying). Hence they mustn't depend on anyone for their next lunch or dinner”. They need help to survive so you have to give this help with hearts full of humility and sincerity. It also makes them aware that someone really does care about their self esteem, dignity and restore their self confidence in overcoming barriers that face them everyday.


We all are touched by the incidents hitting our beloved country, and want to do something. Our soldiers are sacrificing their lives for us to live happily and safe, so whatever we do is nothing in comparison to those heroes' deeds. I believe that instead of buying a new jacket or dress, spend money in different ways and even if we haven’t a lot of money to afford, let’s spend just few hours, in showing kindness to other people.

There are many ways to donate, may be through organizations, or by visiting displaced makeshifts centers. You know, even a smile, a hug, a helpful hand, a kind word or a listening ear will be effective, when someone suffered loss or tragedy. The blessing of giving always comes back to us, not only on Eid, but also throughout our life, I think it matters more than you imagine.

We should not feel despair, because there is so much suffering and grief around us. Instead, we should do what we can to make things better, and encourage others to do the same. The person who sows seeds of love and kindness enjoys a perpetual harvest.

I love you all, you love me too, because we share the same land, sky and same homeland. With love we can rebuild our country as love has eyes to see misery and need. It has ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of people. It also has a hand to help others.

Finally we ask Almighty God to guide us to the right path.


                                                                                              Butheina Alnounou

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Child labour: A reflection of current crisis

The phenomenon of child labor in Syria has become one of the hot debated issues, under the current crisis, as thousands of Syrian families  have become homeless along with their children, who  are obliged to stay in streets seeking work to support their families.

 The question raised is whether the Syrian child is taking his due right and the reasons  that pushed  the  Syrian children under this crisis   to join the labor market early.

The answers come from children themselves. Muhammad, is a 10 year old child, who came to Damascus from  Homs  with his family . He said he could not join 4th grade elementary school in Homs, because his school was demolished by the terrorists and he is now working in selling tobacco with his disabled father in the streets. Muhammad's  father, continued the child with tears in his eyes,  cannot  afford to provide education  for his other 5 brothers who  all dropped out of  school for the same reason.

Muhammad said that he saw two of his class-mates  laying dead in the street in front of their school after being shot by terrorist snipers, adding that  he no more likes the school and prefers to stay in the street selling tobacco from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. carrying the memory of his class-mates and school with him.

Ali, a 16 year old child  whose  fate was sealed into streets as to support his widowed mother, two sisters and two brothers  , after their father was killed in a terrorist explosion in Harasta, in the outskirt of Damascus, is another victim of the terrorist acts. He quitted the school to work in selling combs in the streets. He refused to get money from passersby or to be treated as a beggar. "I want to support my family with my own money and hard work", he insisted. He, all the day, has been quarreling with his rivals in this profession to attract more clients.

When I asked Ali if he still dreams of returning to school after the crisis, he said:" This gloomy condition would not kill my dreams to continue my study and be a human rights activist or a lawyer to disseminate national awareness among all Syrians to reconcile and leave their differences behind, and to build a new Syria for all Syrians." Ali, whose efforts are dedicated to ensure minimum  requirements  of food basics  to his family added : " I do not want to see more displaced children  like me in streets".

Evidences are numerous on the number of children, both boys and girls who come every day to Damascus from neighboring town to work hard and return back with little money to their displaced  and vulnerable families.  

It is extremely regrettable, under the current crisis to have local traders who exploit the situation and prefer to recruit children because of low wages and the possibility of having control on them for long work hours.


Tomader  Fateh


Suffering is part of our life

Can you imagine  a world with no more death, no more killing, no more pain, no more sorrow, no more crying, nor sickness, a world where everything is a joy and a pleasure. I don’t think so, because suffering is the vehicle to happiness and joy.  This is the reality, whether we accept it or not. We have never thought that a day  would come, when we see killers, snipers, or terrorists taking over  our streets. We all are suffering now, but how can we bring good out of bad, bring faith out of curse, bring love out of hatred.

The following story tells all contradictory situations and feelings created on the ground in beloved Syria under the current crisis :

Salma is the elder daughter of my neighbor.  She used to live happily with her husband and five year- old  son in a village near Damascus.  Seven months ago,  while she was away  to bring food for  her family with her child, a sniper shot her child and he was  killed instantly .

For a month she couldn’t talk or even cry, she was shocked by the demise of her son. Her husband, her family and friends tried their best to comfort her, but in vain.  Suddenly, she asked her mother to go with her to one of the displaced centers, where many displaced families were living, she began to listen to their tragedies, trying to calm them down , help them, and play with their children. So far, she still moves from  one place to another  to give the helping hand for displaced persons in need.

When we met a week  ago, she spoke to me  proudly about her experience .  She said: "unless you’ve lost a child yourself, you can’t imagine the shock, the pain, and the anguish I felt".  She proceeded , with the passing of time " I asked myself, would I let the heart breaking experience turn me bitter or make me better ?  thanks largely to my family ,friends, and my husband, whose prayers and words of encouragement strengthened me to overcome the ordeal. I resorted to the God Almighty.  My agony has been alleviated with the passing of time, whenever I come across to other Syrians  who had lost their beloved ones, with their houses demolished as a result  of  terrorist attacks,  I am now Having the courage and high spirit  to console  them.   I have to admit that the tragic death of my son, though a painful experience, yet it made me a person of a better human affiliation.

My word to all the readers of my story, who  lost a beloved one, or passed  severe difficulties, is to hold  on, no matter how difficult the experience or dark the night, there will soon be light at the end of the tunnel.

          Butheina Alnounou

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The Syria Trust for Development Initiative to Help under-five Displaced Children

In recent months, thousands of Syrian families who fled their homes in volatile suburbs and headed to cities to seek safety ended up staying either in schools, public parks or relative's houses.

796 shelters

As for the number of schools which have been occupied by the displaced families, according to a statement by Education Ministry, it is estimated at 796 all over Syria. However, there are no statistics about the families using public parks and relative's houses as a shelter.

In this context, some reports cited the decrease of schools being occupied by the displaced families in Syria by the beginning of the new school year (September 16) through moving most of them to other governmental buildings.

NGO's initiatives

The fact of sheltering displaced families in schools and parks has imposed on the Non-Governmental Organizations challenging initiatives in the field of relief and humanitarian aid as a real partner in the societal development process.  

The aid offered by these NGO's is not limited to food and medicine as it also includes recreational activities for children and adolescents in the schools.

Aid  partners

One of these NGO's that is lending a helping hand in this field is the Syria Trust for Development (STD) which is networking with governmental bodies and partners to provide all needed facilitation to work.

South region

Speaking to the Syria Times, the Trust's South Region's press official Miss. Areej Bawadekji, said: " a week before Ramadan month, we started our work in helping displaced families in 32 schools in Damascus.''

On individual basis, the Trust team has taken the first step through contacting municipalities' heads, Education Ministry, Damascus Governorate, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor.

Local society                                                                                                                               

"The cooperation of these governmental bodies besides local community in each region plays prominent role in keeping on aid works in the schools supervised by the Trust," Miss. Bawadekji noted.

The government's serious support for the NGO's and local community refutes allegations of circulated reports that the Syrian displaced families in schools solely relying on help of local community and charity.  

Nevertheless, no one can deny that charity is the main source of financing causalities in all world crises.

The cooperation has been manifested in mechanism of the Trust team's work in the schools. Miss. Bawadekji clarified that some 20 volunteers are working in each school and they directly contact families in 16 schools in Damascus to define their needs and to make them feel safe.

"Kafo" initiative

This communication drew the attention of the Trust team to the priority of health initiative to help under-five children who are suffering from malnutrition.

"The (Kafo) initiative is based on a network including concerned bodies in field of health to offer services to the children, not only during their stay in the schools; but also after returning to their homes," Miss. Bawadekji added.

With this in mind, the initiative launched its first activity on September, 5, 2012, in cooperation with the UNICEF, in "Somaya alMakhzomeyeh" school where about 45 children were medically examined and provided with necessary medication.

"The first activity also included a training session for volunteers on diagnosing malnutrition, blood-pressure measuring, and reading data," Miss. Bawadekji said.

This initiative is just an example of the humanitarian aid being offered by the Trust in one field to alleviate the impact of crisis currently facing the Syrian people.

The Syria Trust for Development is a non-governmental, non-profit organization established in 2001 to empower individuals and communities in Syria to fulfill their role in building their society and shaping their future.


Basma Qaddour




AAMAL : promotion the rights and dignity of the disabled

The Syrian Organization for the Disabled, better known as AAMAl, is a non-Governmental organization , which was established by the Syrian First Lady Ms. Asma Al-Assad in 2002.  It dedicates its efforts to improve level standars for people  with special needs by acting as a venue for change, pursuing an integrated approach, and networking with others to achieve the broadest possible  impact.

AAMAL  activities are mainly  concentrated  on integrating  the disabled into the Syrian society through  establishing and operating  specialized centers for rehabilitation of the disabled ,   ensuring  continued training to cadres assigned in this area , with special concentration  on  practical applications and urging authorities concerned to enact and implement  legislations guaranteeing rights of the disabled.

Other  activities are  launching awareness campaigns and dissemination of awareness on the disability and encouraging ways  enabling society integrating  the disabled, as well as  cooperating with local, regional and international organizations concerned to further  support the disability issue. AAMAL  is  responsible for the management of multiple Service Centers in Damascus.  It is also responsible for the day-to-day management of the three  Centers' treatment and services, activities and its professional staff, and maintaining  coordination of long-term rehabilitation processes of patients with birth defects, neurological disorders, brain injuries, and developmental disorders.  It is also  accountable to ensure  the drafting and then  implementation  of new policies and directives.

Families of the disabled, thanks to AAMAL, have the opportunity  to participate in various social activities in the framework of a scientific system which directly contributes to rehabilitating the disabled and opens the door for them to play an effective role in life. For instance,  disabled children who have hearing problems are admitted by a specialized committee.

AAMAL center  consists of several rooms isolated form noise, and the tables are in the shape of horseshoe to ensure a complete eye contact with all the students. The educational program adopted by the Center was put by the specialists of AAMAL based on epistemic and linguistic principles in line with the age of the children, who are divided into three age categories. 

Services  are rendered to the disabled children for one year, and after that a specialized committee decides their condition to assess whether they can join schools or not. The Center is equipped with the most advanced technologies and devices required for conducting tests and hearing checkups.

Syria, a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which came into force in 2008,  promotes the rights and dignity of people with disabilities. The convention demands that governments should  take measures to ensure that disabled people can live and move about independently by ensuring that roads and buildings provide disabled access to better their life and integration into their environment.

Based on the fact that many people with disabilities are poorly educated; and can't find a job, a  law is enforced in Syria to this end, stipulating that 4% of the country 's  labor force is for the disabled .

 But it's the difficulty of movement and the lack of an accessible educational system which prevents them from getting a proper education in the first place. But there's no use sitting and crying over the past. We have to take measurable steps towards a more accessible Syria."

Actually, the heavy burden confronting humanitarian  organizations like AAMAL is immense, including the lack of accurate statistics on the number of people with disabilities in Syria. To provide a more comprehensive picture in this regard,  a national  survey of the country's disabled community is underway , in order to evaluate needs of the disabled;  so as to tailor government policy to this end  . Such a survey would provide ''numbers and kinds of disabilities , the Syrians suffer from and where these disabilities  are located,"

It is an established fact that relatives- intermarriage, irregular vaccinations for children, poor health care provided for pregnant woman and mothers , mal-nutrition  and the high accidents rates, are but among other factors that have made of Syria  a country of considerably big generation of disabled.

Thanks to the efforts of National Council for Disabilities Affairs (NCDA), several disabled Syrians  have  joined  the council which is staffed by representatives from six Syrian ministries and several NGOs, besides  a number of experts and people with disabilities. It has been lobbying for the rights of the disabled since 2004.

A key part of  the Syrian  government  strategy is to improve the safety of homes and workplaces and to reduce the number of accidents which can result in mobility impairment, and thereby contribute to alleviating disability .

Tomader Fateh