Food Aid Comforts Displaced Residents Of Historic Syrian Town
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Published on 24 September 2013

Mary, a 59-year-old displaced Syrian from Ma'aloula, picks up her WFP food ration in Jaramana. Copyright: WFP/Hussam Al-Saleh

The mountain village of Ma’aloula is famous as being one of the few places where the ancient language of Aramaic is still spoken. In Aramaic its name means “entrance”. But that name seems sadly inappropriate now, as fierce fighting in the area has made it the scene of an “exodus” by its few thousand inhabitants.  WFP is assisting many of them on the outskirts of Damascus.

Jaramana, DAMASCUS –  Earlier this month, fierce fighting turned the Syrian town of Ma’aloula, north of Damascus,  into a ghost town. Many of its inhabitants, including 59-year-old Mary and her two sisters, fled to the safer neighbourhood of Jaramana on the outskirts of the capital.

Mary’s family is one of 300 families who fled Ma’aloula. At the age of 59, Mary left her home early in September with her two sisters. They fondly remember the small house where they lived, with its view of the village’s historical shrines, monasteries and churches.

“The house that used to give us warmth and security was burnt along with many others nearby,” says Mary, her eyes clouded with tears. “I lived most of my life in the peaceful Ma’aloula community. I never thought that one day I would need to flee for my life.”

For many Syrians, both Muslims and Christians, the village was a safe haven, she explained. “Now its residents are looking for safety elsewhere.”

While they were living in Ma’aloula, the sisters managed to get by with little income. None of them was married and only one had a job: “She was a teacher, and she was the one who provided for all of us, ” says Mary, who has been in Jaramana for 10 days.

She has already received the WFP food ration that will help her cope while she and her sisters are displaced. “This definitely helps. Food prices are so high, everything is expensive, especially oil,” she says as she picks up her food at the Arab Syrian Red Crescent’s (SARC) distribution point.

Mary and her sisters are among 3 million Syrians that WFP aims to reach in September.

Despite her sadness, Mary thanked WFP and the humanitarian community for the assistance received and seemed hopeful she would soon be able to return home.

“The situation in Ma’aloula will be stable and secure soon. I am sure of that,” said Mary, in a voice filled with pain. “My sisters and I will fix the house; Ma’aloula is the air we breathe.”