A blessing or a curse?

Charity associations in Damascus…Shuttle journeys at the mercy of donors

(Crowds of hundred people gathering in front of a Charity building in Al-Maydan neighborhood in the city of Damascus – June, 10th, 2016 – Damascus Now)

(Crowds of hundred people gathering in front of a Charity building in Al-Maydan neighborhood in the city of Damascus – June, 10th, 2016 – Damascus Now)


Printed Edition ‖ No.: 227

Enab Baladi – Damascus

Charity associations and volunteering teams have a role in the attempt of advancing a country towards a civil society, since they carry a burden off the shoulder of the state’s institutions. However, when the situation is reversed, and the government drops the burden off to these associations under the state’s security grip, the charitable developmental projects turn to enslavement projects for the targeted groups, as well as a waste of whatever dignity is left, and the government exploits all of these powerful youth energies in projects that keep them busy, based on the principle “we keep them busy, rather than having them occupied with us.”

The aid provided to the displaced people in Damascus serve the goals of the benefactors rather than those of the beneficiaries. At a time when large amounts of money is being spent to provide the demands imposed by the benefactor himself, did it ever occur to him to ask these groups about their demands?

Kareem, displaced from the Ghouta of Damascus, has suffered a great deal from the way the charity treated him, after his neighbors have encouraged him to apply at one of the charity associations that offer loans to small entrepreneurs, as a compensation for what they have lost in their areas; “you forget about the unattainable requests of the charity, and you considerably think of the idea of feasibility study of the requested project, the aim of it and how far does it serve humanity…all of this theoretical talk has to comply with my project of purchasing a shoes’ repair machine, in order for me to stand in the crowded streets, and at the end, they simply ask you to forget all about it and get into what the benefactor sees as suitable.”

The journey among charity associations

One of the charity associations, concerned with health projects, donated for the child Lian a surgical operation, with a cost that exceeds one million Syrian pounds, after the mother has followed these steps: “I went to the first association, who asked me for a medical report with my child’s condition. I showed them the report, but they refused it and asked me to re-do it through their contracted doctor. He gave the report with a cost higher than the one I had from the previous doctor. When I went back to them, they were shocked by the difference and told me to stick to my doctor and forget about their doctor, whom they truly trust, as they tried to convince me in my first visit.”

The charity associations’ system that sponsors expensive surgical operations only provides an amount of 50 thousand Syrian pound. The patient has then to wander charities in order to collect the required amount of money. The mother says “I have started my long journey by searching for the headquarters of the associations, each of them has its own system, and they rarely receive reviewers inside; everyone has to line up outside just like sheep, suffering from the hot and cold weather, not to mention that waiting in these lines could take months, you might have a turn after a number of times, to eventually have them apologize to you claiming that they do not cover such cases, without even bothering to clarify which cases does their charity cover so that people won’t wait in vain.”

One of the associations refused to provide the mother with the money because she is an engineer, even though she does not work, and their claim was “you do not look like someone who needs aid”, at the end, one of the associations provided the whole amount of money through a donor, after they asked the mother to videotape Lian appealing donors as she describes her case in order to beseech their compassion; “they told me that after the surgical operation, they will record another video with her thanking them, and that it would be more effective if it is videotaped in the hospital, since it derives more pity from the donor.”

Scattering people with gunfire and cursing

Afya Box launched their campaign before the month of Ramadan through distributing food baskets, as supportive meals during the month of fasting. People streamed from far and near towards the association. More than one person told about what happened while they were there, just like Feras, a displaced from Deir Ez-Zour, who says “I arrived at the headquarter of the association in Al-Maydan/Ghawas with the Fajr’s call, to find hundreds ahead of me. When I asked one of the people waiting, he told me that he slept over the night close to the association’s location in order to arrive early, yet neither of us was lucky to get a Ramadan basket.”

With all the war, it is not unusual for the Syrian regime to use gunfire in order to scatter people in there. Sawsan, a displaced from Dara’, recounts “the number of people waiting for Ramadan baskets exceeded thousands, and when they started arguing over lines, turns and who got first and who went in with no turn, the security elements organizing the process, started shooting in the air in order to scatter the people standing and stop the dispute among them. However, people remained standing.”

Social networking sites passed on photos of hundreds of citizens gathering in Al-Maydan neighborhood, on the 9th of June, 2016, asserting that members of the charity association went outside carrying loudspeakers and began shouting, insulting and threatening to stop the distribution and delay it, if the people waiting did not obey their orders.

Um Haitham, coming from Maliha, thinks that any person who does not wait in front of these charities’ doors, will be held accountable for letting his right go, and is considered a mute demon (to refer to those who do not claim their right); “they have robbed our houses, burnt them, destroyed them and dragged us out by force, so it is not much to have them opening charities to distribute aid, detergents and clothing. I force all of my neighbors to go and get the aid, since the aid is here because of us, and if we do not claim it, then it is the swindlers’ share.”

Excluding families from associations

Under the new plan by the Syrian regime, every family that benefits from the associations, has been requested to bring in identification documents (a photocopy of the family book, a family statement that is renewed every 3 months, a house lease, a copy of the last electricity and water bills, a death certificate of the father in case he was deceased, or a missing statement in case he was detained; this paper alone is a long series of torture, which often end up with rejection). Those who do not complete all papers are excluded from the association.

Mr. Abo Akram, board member of one of the charity associations in Damascus, tells Enab Baladi that “recently people have been busy frequently visiting charity associations, we would find a beneficiary registered in more than one association at the same time, which, in this case, means that he is taking someone else’s spot. Therefore, we started asking beneficiaries to bring in the previous documents, with a cancellation request from the mentioned associations, and staying registered in one association only, depending on the location of his residency.”

He adds “we are working hard on checking among charities in order to restrict these cases, and deliver the concerned person exclusively. We have canceled the names of families with no children, or whose children are over the legal age. Families, who have been registered through the association’s employees, proven to be corrupt with theft, have been excluded.”

“Begging” in the name of the displaced

A lady enters an association, starts crying, lamenting her bad luck, her destroyed house, her desperate need for medication and clothing, while repeating the phrase: “I just left Daraya. I crossed 11 checkpoints to get here to you. Help me! I have no one but you after Allah.”

Reem, a volunteer at one of the associations from Daraya, says the phrase echoed in my ears, wondering how “there is a huge difference between this lady’s accent and that of Daraya people, so I asked her: aunt, are you from Daraya? And she asserts with every answer that she just got out of Daraya, while we are all bewildered, as it is no way for her to go out.”

After some arguing, it turns out that she comes from Kafar Swseh and lives by a road that leads to Daraya, and “the catastrophe is that she is begging, in the strict sense of the word, in the name of the people of Daraya”, the volunteer says.

The same scene is repeated in front of the Masjid of Zaid Bn Thabet on Khaled Bn Waleed Street, where a woman sits with her children and calls out: “by Allah, we are from Daraya, help us! May Allah help you”, Reem, who examined the situation, replies “the weakest sense of faith is to at least try to speak their dialect, since she is pretending to be one of them.”

Between the regime’s cities and the besieged countryside

Wherever you turn your face in the areas under the Syrian regime’s control with his iron security grip, you will find new names of charity associations, and you will find yourself involved in volunteering youth initiatives, either through printed or broadcasted ads. You will also find “posters, events, logos, sponsors” filling the pages of “Facebook”, “WhatsApp”, “Twitter”… all of which operating under broad lines, such as “Active citizenship, enabling youth to participate in dialogue, reconciliation, mediation and peace building, providing the required tools in order to confront the challenges in our societies, as well as supporting the youth to enter the labor market.”

All of this urbanization in Damascus and part of its countryside, only separated by a few meters from eastern and western Ghouta and the rest of the besiege Damascene countryside, shaded by the same sky that rains Assad’s missiles on that countryside, with an aspiration of the Syrian government to show itself in the best image of urbanization.

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