x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

In midst of war, Syrian family builds bakery to feed residents

Paul Muir speaks to one of the UAE-based Syrians behind a charity that is using alternative methods to ease the humanitarian crisis unfolding in their home country

A Syrian worker makes dough at the Maarat Al Numan Automatic Bakery. Courtesy EverySyrian.org
A Syrian worker makes dough at the Maarat Al Numan Automatic Bakery. Courtesy EverySyrian.org

An Abu Dhabi-based Syrian family has risen to the challenge of feeding people in their homeland by helping to establish an automatic bakery on the front line of the fighting between rebel forces and the Assad regime.

Their charitable organisation, Every Syrian, which they set up in March last year to spearhead a range of humanitarian projects there, collaborated with the US-based Karam Foundation and UK-based Syria Relief to build the bakery in the town of Maarat Al Numan in Idlib.

Residents of the north-western town, which has seen its population decline from 150,000 to 30,000 since 2011 because of the conflict, are desperately in need of outside ­assistance.

“Ninety per cent are dependent on aid. It’s everybody,” explains Farouk, whose real name cannot be used because his aid activities in insurgent-held areas are considered illegal by the Assad regime and it would put his relatives back in Syria in danger.

Farouk, whose family runs an oil-and-gas services company in the capital, believes that helping people help themselves is the best way to improve people’s lives during the conflict. In addition to providing residents with 50,000 free loaves of bread a day, the bakery provides desperately needed permanent jobs for residents and helps to stimulate the local economy.

Supporting the enterprise, Farouk says, is vastly superior to trucking bread across the border from bakeries in Turkey. “We have 20 people working there,” Farouk says. “That means 20 families have a breadwinner.”

The bakery, built by the groups at a cost of US$50,000 (Dh183,650), is funded by the local city council charity, which must secure donations of more than $40,000 per month to keep it running. The bakery is just one of numerous innovative humanitarian projects that Every Syrian is involved in.

Others include a prosthetic-limbs clinic, where artificial legs are manufactured and distributed gratis to amputees, who are also able to stay on-site and undergo rehabilitation. Since the conflict began, thousands of people have lost limbs, many of whom would not have had to undergo amputation if normal medical services were available. “They don’t have time to save legs,” Farouk says. “They have to move on to the next guy.”

In partnership with MedShare, a US charity dedicated to the efficient recovery and redistribution of surplus medical supplies and equipment, the group sends life-saving container shipments to Syria on a regular basis.

Concerned that the lack of available education will be as destructive to the country as the war itself, Farouk is also looking at ways to get children back in school. “We are looking into internet-based education,” he says.

Last time that The Review spoke to Farouk, in March 2012, he was involved in an informal network that loaded aid – donated food, blankets, medical supplies, clothing, mobile phones and almost anything else that they could lay their hands on – onto lorries destined for Syria, where it would be broken down into smaller parcels and smuggled by car and motorcycle to those in need throughout the country.

But the aid-distribution strategy shifted dramatically after rebel forces seized control of areas in the north. “The Turkish border opened up and that changed everything,” explains Farouk, who has crossed from Turkey into insurgent-held areas in Syria four times over the past year.

“From Turkey to Syria, the line of trucks is amazing. There’s the official crossing and the unofficial crossing, which we use now.

“Last year, we started upping our aid activities significantly.”

There is little doubt in Farouk’s mind that the need for his organisation’s services will continue indefinitely. “It is much worse every time I go back,” he says. “This thing is going to go on for ­generations.

“As Syrian expats, we have to do this. It is something we have to do as people outside. It is our duty.”

• To find out more about Every Syrian, go to www.everysyrian.org

pmuir@thenational.ae