The staff of Jesuit Refugee Service stand both with one another, and with the displaced of Syria. (Jesuit Refugee Service)

(Beirut) November 18, 2016 — The war in Syria has grabbed world headlines for almost six years now; the violence has killed and wounded thousands; millions have been made homeless: most of them displaced within Syria itself,  while others have been forced to seek refuge in another country. Many towns and cities of Syria are destroyed beyond recognition.

In the face of hate and violence, pain and suffering, there are several ordinary citizens who have silently and often heroically reached out to serve their less fortunate sisters and brothers. Some of these silent heroes work with the Jesuit Refugee Service in Syria. Braving all odds, they serve, accompany and advocate for those more affected than them. 

A series of ‘Leadership Workshops’ have been organized by Fr. Fouad Nakhla S.J., the JRS Syria Country Director. These residential workshops spread over three to four days, are meant for the Core Teams (approx. 17 members in one team) from each of the project areas; they are facilitated by Ms. Sandra Chaoul, a professional leadership coach, and a Jesuit, Fr. Jack Germanos. The training is intense; but the feed-back from the participants who have completed the training is very positive.

The Core Team (CT) from Damascus and the Country Office had their trainings in October. The CT from Aleppo finished theirs on November 15th and the CT from Homs would begin theirs late evening on the 16th, both in Sednaya, a historic town about 25 kilometers from Damascus.

Fr. Fouad had a brainwave: to bring all the teams together for a reunion on November 16. JRS celebrates its ‘Foundation Day’ on November 14th every year — so it was indeed an ideal day to celebrate the origins, the spirit, the vision and the mission with all those who have been an integral part of the JRS family here in Syria.

It was indeed a historic and memorable day for 60 JRS family members from Aleppo, Homs and Damascus (urban and rural). Many of them were meeting for the first time, but by the end of the day they bonded with one another, as though they knew each other even before the thirty-six years since the foundation of JRS. For several, temporarily forgetting the violence and suffering, which they encounter daily was in fact a soothing balm.

Fr. Fouad shared with the group the vision and values of JRS and the importance of the day; a meaningful film on Fr. Pedro Arrupe and JRS helped set the tone for all; an enjoyable ice-breaking session brought the participants closer together. A powerful TED TALKS film, very animated group sharing and an Anniversary Cake “Walking with Refugees,” all helped to deepen the bonds and to strengthen the commitment. 

However, the great spirit and togetherness of the JRS Syria Teams was manifested in one single act; someone suggested ‘why don’t we do a human collage which spell out the JRS letters?’ And before one could bat an eye the members came together and very spontaneously formed the letters ‘JRS.’ 

Certainly an act of togetherness and pride of belonging to the JRS family.

by Fr Cedric Prakash S.J.
Jesuit Refugee Service Middle East and North Africa

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