In Vartouhi Abajian’s case, it was her sweets and food shop, which had been looted and badly damaged. All the utensils were gone and Vartouhi did not have money to replace them or buy the necessary ingredients to make food to sell.
“There was damage to the shop, some parts had collapsed. I needed to work so I started making food at home but my kitchen was too small. My situation had become impossible, so this rebuilding of the shop was vital to restore my livelihood.”
She was able to give a fresh start to her business with the support of her local church, which was turned into a Centre of Hope – one of 16 such centres across Syria – through which Open Doors is providing vital aid to thousands of vulnerable families, as well as vocational training and loans.
In her restored shop, Vartouhi cooks takeaway food from the Armenian cuisine, both meals and sweets, and takes special orders. “Our meals are very tasty, I prepare the food diligently,” she said.
Her business is now ‘going very successfully’, Vartouhi said: “As women, we can do it, we can be productive, even in this difficult period we can produce.”
Another business that successfully restarted recently is the hair salon of Rober Karageozian. When Aleppo came under siege, Rober had to flee to Lebanon with his wife and two children.
“It was a terrible time in Aleppo. The area we live in was under constant attack. We had no water, no electricity, no fuel for heating and there was almost no work for me here. So, we decided to leave for Lebanon where I could work as a hairdresser.”
When Rober returned to Syria he found his shop badly damaged. With help from a Centre of Hope, Rober’s hair salon was restored and he was able to buy the necessary furniture and equipment. Now he can provide for his family and employ a young trainee, Elias.
“I reopened my shop and business is exceeding all expectations,” explained Rober. I have a good reputation and already have a lot of customers. Business is good. This shop came just in time for me.”
In 2016, Open Doors launched the global Hope for the Middle East campaign, to draw international attention to the persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria. Since then, over 30,000 families in Syria and Iraq have been helped with relief aid and rehabilitation projects. With more support, Open Doors church partners aim to establish an additional 20 Centres of Hope across Syria, to provide short-term aid, micro-loans and livelihood training to help people rebuild their lives for the long-term.
As the conflict in Syria continues, Islamic extremists still have control over areas of Syria. In these areas, Christians are forced to pay protection money, follow a strict dress code and cannot express their faith publicly. In other areas of Syria, the leaders of historical churches are targets for abduction – their robes identify their faith and thus they are an easy target.
Christians are sometimes kidnapped for ransom.
Believers from Muslim backgrounds face pressure from their families, as leaving Islam is seen as a huge source of shame.
Photos © Open Doors International.