“My Home is Your Home”: A Civil Society Organization Licensed by Sweida City’s People
Without obtaining an official license, the Bytee Ana Bytk/My Home is Your Home organization operates in the Shahba area, Sewida governorate, presenting the people several activities and services; such as raising funds, offering medical services and helping people in need find houses, not to mention the bread and milk it distributs free of charge.
The organization was not granted a license by the Syrian authorities; but still, it functions according to the people’s needs, which the organization’s board view as authorization of its own.
Popular Insurgence was the Beginning
One of the organization’s members, who requested to stay anonymous, told Enab Baladi that with the outbreak of the popular action in 2011, a group of Shahba city’s people held a meeting in a guesthouse to set a mechanism for protecting civil peace and enhancing the culture of difference, triggered by the rift that began to threaten the Syrian society’s coherence.
“We did not set about work from a unified political inclination; we made it into a colorful work that brings together all tendencies, with a purely humanitarian aim,” these were the standards that the whole group agreed on and with the first displacement wave’s arrival in Sweida the “My Home is Your Home” was launched as a relief campaign, not an official organization.
About the name’s choice, the member said that it was taken from a song by Fairuz, which has the same name, in addition to the expression being a well-known term that people use in Sweida to express hospitality towards guests, “My Home is all Yours.”
The campaign’s slogan was “the right of the guest is the right of the homeland,” as to inform people that this work is the Syrian person’s rightful duty towards his Syrian fellow; it is not a gift or human kindness.
Sweida remained one of Syria’s most “safe” areas, as it has been neutralized from the military action. This turned it into a destination for afflicted zones’ escapees, whose number is estimated with more than 70 thousand internally displaced persons, according to unofficial statistics.
Salem, the pseudonym of an activist from the city of Sweida, told Enab Baladi that they had no vision about civil action; however, after getting a hang of its essence, they discovered its importance, capable of sensing the danger that engulfed civil pace in the beginning of the revolution, in addition to the social rift, and this rift’s transformation into a separation among the same area’s people, not to mention the idea of the protection of minorities which the regime promoted leading to boosting the chasm based on political positions.
Citizenship and Civil Peace Committees’ Launch
Salem explained the phases that the organization’s work and development bore witness to. As a starting point and an early warning, the residents of Shahba organized what is referred to as the citizenship and civil peace committees on November 22, 2011, which sought to guard civil peace, public facilities, people’s private possessions, and combat hatred and sedition.
The second phase gave birth to a social referential group and communication with decision-making social figures to function as a deterrent in the absence of the law. Nonetheless, the group was not that lucky, for some of the people were holding tight to the role of the government in relation to this planned action and were lacking belief in the committees’ ability at shouldering it.
Enab Baladi was familiarized with the committee’s admission application. The applicants must answer questions covering the following range of topics: Endorsing the culture of difference, protecting public possessions, supporting ethical values, national unity, and the readiness to help internally displaced persons, among others.
Interviewed by Enab Baladi, an man displaced with other 35 family members within the first wave towards Sweida in June 2012, said that he was surprised by the people’s reception, especially since they were afraid of heading to Shahba as it was yet controlled by the Syrian regime which caused their suffering in the first place.
People’s Trust is a License
One of the organization’s early volunteers explained to Enab Baladi how the “My Home is Your Home” campaign’s members were divided into several committees: One group was responsible for welcoming the people, organizing their affairs and helping them find houses; another was turned into the finance committee, which was designated for fundraising; there is also the medical committee, consisting of 40 volunteer doctors, offering free medications, obtained through civil donations.
The accommodation capacity, at the start, amounted to 350 families, rocketing to 1200 families in the following three months, thus amplifying the difficulties. This called for the Syrian Red Crescent to intervene back then, limiting the organization’s action to providing food baskets on the families’ arrival, in addition to milk and bread which are constant offerings.
“After this, we started thinking of taking the work into different directions. We collected donations from the people and launched a project for children school dropouts. We targeted 45 children, IDPs and from the local community, with the aim at integrating them for four months. This was executed in 2014 and 2015,” the volunteer added.
Today the organization is working on granting 41 university students financial grants, which cover 10 months by an amount of 20 to 25 Syrian pounds (the dollar equals 550 Syrian pounds on average). This idea was a success and spread in the neighboring villages, for there are two groups in the towns of Mardak and al-Shabki, in addition to a third in Sweida, which have all followed suit.
Keen on transparency, the organization issues periodical financial reports on the goals it has achieved, and the money paid in the process.
Security Intrusion All Present
Speaking of the regime’s security intervention, Salem said that the security investigation used to end with the security forces checking the financial reports, which prove that the sources of funding are completely civil.
Despite this, the organization’s workers are banned from traveling and are always referred to security headquarters for investigation. But still, the team cannot find in the Syrian law a space that might help to license the organization as a civil society one, Salem said.