CARE initiative connects Refugees from WWII and the Syrian War through pen-friendship
“I know firsthand what it’s like to lose a home and become a refugee.” Carefully penned in tight script on a piece of ivory stationary, this was the opening of 87-year-old Helga Kissell’s handwritten letter. It was addressed to Sajeda, a 16-year-old Syrian refugee in Jordan who Kissell has never met.
We know that many Syrians who have been forced from their homes are passionate about their country and are already playing a role in its future. When refugees and people who were forced to leave eventually return home, they often suffer a second displacement when they are pushed aside by reconstruction processes that ignore their needs and plans. By gathering information from as wide a range of people as possible, we hope to challenge many of the assumptions about how reconstruction should be managed.
Over the next several months, we will post data snapshots highlighting different visions for Aleppo’s future. Our first snapshot is about restoring public services to rebel-held areas of the city.
Hakam holding younger brother Shahim - around 2000
Jasmine tree from the terrace - Nour Chaar 2010
Liwan upstairs at sunset - AlHakam Shaar 2010
Parents' bedroom facade with window glass broken from barrel bombing next door - AlHakam Shaar Oct 2014
Upstairs bedroom interior - AlHakam Shaar 2010
Upstairs bedroom recedes to allow more light and air downstairs - AlHakam Shaar 2010
When I bought and renovated a house in the Old City of Aleppo, I was asked by the Syrian Engineers Syndicate to assess the experience. I told the cultural committee represented by Mr. Khaldoun Fansa that I would follow an Arab expression that you don’t make a judgment on something for a year and seven months. After that time I gave this lecture to the Syndicate. It has been translated, edited and updated and now also includes the view of two of my children.
I was born in 1950 in what we call an “Arabic house,” a stone building built around a courtyard, sheltered from its neighbors and housing just one family. It was in the Al Bustan area of Aleppo, by the southern gate of the Saray palace and just inside the eastern wall of the old city. We left in 1954 to live in al-Ansari in a house that was similar to an Arabic house in that we lived there alone without neighbors above or below us.
When the drought in Syria started in 2008, the United Nations issued an appeal for funding for food aid for the many farmers whose crops had failed and animals had either been sold or died. In August the next year, with the drought getting worse and lasting longer than any other on record, another international appeal for help was announced. By the end of 2009, it had raised just 14 percent of what was needed.
“We liberated the rural parts of Aleppo province. We waited and waited for Aleppo City to rise, and it didn’t. We couldn’t rely on them to do it for themselves so we had to bring the revolution to them.” Those were the words in July 2012 of Abu Hashish, a commander from a village in the country near Aleppo. The conflict had indeed spread from the Idleb countryside to northern Aleppo in the early part of the year but only reached the city in July.
It has become a truism of conflict resolution to say that peace cannot be forced on a country and negotiations only work when the time is ripe. Is that moment approaching in Syria? A poll of Syrians by The Day After, an Istanbul-based research organisation, shows that a small majority now favour a negotiated settlement with the government. Of the 2,600 people polled inside and outside Syria, 54.7 per cent want to see talks that lead to a settlement. That is still low compared with some countries in conflict. A recent poll in Afghanistan showed that 71 per cent of respondents want a negotiated settlement with the Taliban even though only 4 per cent said they would prefer the return of the Taliban to power rather than the current government.