Hanano Community Centre – Restoring Hope

By late 2016, the fall of Aleppo was certain. Syrian forces had recaptured the largest rebel stronghold in the region. The seizure of Hanano district, in north-east Aleppo, left some 275,000 people under siege as the army’s offensive continued. Deprived of food and medical supplies, many citizens fled to safety. Yet, others stayed – bound to their homeland.

For those who did, life under siege, though stabilizing is not without hardship. Some 6.5 million Syrians are acutely food insecure and an additional 4 million people are at risk of becoming so. This is largely due to the major reduction in livelihoods opportunities. With infrastructure and basic services destroyed by conflict, it is very difficult for families to stay self-reliant. In Hanano area, the local market is barely functional. Agriculture could be a great source to strengthen resilience, yet vital livelihoods assets and agricultural inputs must be supplied.

As the fighting moves north and the patience of host communities dwindles, a trickle of IDPs and refugees have spontaneously returned home. This has put extra strain on the little services available and increased the Hanano areas’ dependence on food assistance. Access to a diversified diet – particularly in hard-to-reach areas – remains a priority.

Building resilience

Dorcas is working to restore vital livelihoods and strengthen the resilience of vulnerable families through the Dorcas Life Community Center in Aleppo. At the centre, people receive urgent humanitarian aid and psychosocial support but can also begin to work towards a brighter future. Dorcas thoroughly believes in the innate skills of the local community. That’s why this centre focuses on the provision of practical tools and support to help them flourish. Our programme of technical and micro-business skills training is designed to help individuals start, re-start or develop their small enterprise or income generating activity. Our team of outreach volunteers in the Hanano district and Aleppo city areas ensure that those most vulnerable are reached – we bring people in or they find the centre themselves. Our main focus is to support individuals to achieve a greater level of self-confidence and independence and improve their household food security. We also offer a feasibility studies workshop so that those who wish to can gain additional entrepreneurial skills in order to deal with the financial and social requirements of their business.

A trusted outlet

Many children and vulnerable IDPs are dealing with trauma – a result of witnessing violent events or loss of loved ones during the fighting. Some have also been subjected to sexual abuse and violence. We adopt a case management approach to ensure when children come to the centre they receive the right support from the get-go. Based on the case, a team of trained psychologists will refer the child or adult to the appropriate line of care – anything from one-to-one counselling sessions to group therapy and, where needed, legal aid. “This isn’t just about healing, it’s also about justice”, says Najla Chahda, War Child Syria Country Director. “In fact, it’s often the only way for people to truly heal. The support we offer must address that, and that’s why we also try to lobby local government to protect the fundamental rights of children, women and marginalised groups.”

This kind of support – specifically targeted at the emotional and social wellbeing of the people we work with – is largely unique in the Hanano area. Indeed, there is a clear lack of NGO activity on the ground due to the complex operating environment. “Sometimes people ask me how we are able to operate in this region”, continues Najla. “That’s got a lot to do with our long-term commitment to working with community organisations that function with or without us – particularly ones that the Syrian people trust in.”

Scaling up

The community centre was founded on this notion – working together with different churches in the area to implement the protection component of the programme. Through the local Presbyterian Church this has enabled Dorcas to provide quality legal advice and aid – and ensure that cases are progressed. “By working with local actors, we’ve also been able to introduce new components”, explains Najla. “Our life skills and awareness raising programmes are one such arm. They seek to address some of the deeper societal practices and harmful stereotypes and raise awareness about ways in which the community can look out for and protect each other.” Dorcas Syria staff have also introduced a series of creative activities for children, including theatre and painting. These sessions are specially designed to support the social-emotional development of vulnerable Syrian children. It’s easy to forget, in the midst of all this war, how important it is for children to just be children again. These activities offer a safe space for children to play and explore. With the right support early on, I believe most children can overcome the hardships they have experienced. But it’s absolutely crucial that we don’t let these hidden wounds fester.”

10 August 2020