Hope amidst difficulty

Waed Melaneh Shares Hope amidst Difficulty
George Arende

What began as an expression of art by teenagers on a school wall in the city of Deraa, became a pro- democracy protest following the arrest and torture of the teenagers by police. The small protests that began in March 2011 spread like bush-fire. Deraa city soon became the epicenter of a national movement that called for the resignation of President Assad.
By July, four months into the protest, streets became battlefields. Assad’s opposition was widespread. The opposition groups had acquired lethal weapons and formed militia for two reasons: one, to defend themselves from oppressive police and two, to expel government forces from their local areas.
Come 2012, the situation had transformed from national protest into complex civil war between the armed opposition brigades and government forces. By the time the fighting reached the capital Damascus, a trail of deaths, destruction and displacements followed. Tens of thousands of people found themselves living as refugees in Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon. Some fled to Egypt while others had to traverse European countries seeking safety as refugees.
One family caught in the long protracted war was that of ELCG-member Waed Melaneh, a Christian from Maloula, a village located some 40 miles from Damascus. His village prides itself of being one of a handful of villages in the northeast of Damascus that still speaks Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ. “Before the war, we lived normally, we used to go out over the weekend, meet friends, go to church every Sunday and celebrate Christmas. We adored our country”, recalled Waed.

In the last six years, the right to such privileges has changed. The situation deteriorated from bad to worse. Waed and his family helplessly watched as his village and country turned into a battlefield. His village was among the few that were protected by the government forces, security that averted Christian deaths. In other areas the battle was either between the government forces and armed opposition, or between the government forces and Islamic jihadists. Over time the country has become a place for military experiment by the superpowers. The United Nations on many occasions have made humanitarian appeal to aid Syrian refugees. One senior UN staff termed it “the largest humanitarian response in the human history”.
The prolonged war has split families and displaced children. Waed’s family and relatives have not been spared the effects of the war: “my sister lives in Amman, Jordan, and another in France”, he said. Sporadic attacks on his village later became common. “Christians live in a dangerous situation, forcing many to leave”, lamented Waed.

“They [ISIS] force Christians to convert or leave “, he explained. “I am worried about my mother who is alone in Syria, since I came to Geneva ten months ago”.
Although he is safe in Geneva, he cannot stop worrying about his mother and relatives living in Syria under challenging conditions. “Damascus has no electricity, no water, no internet. It is difficult to be here in a peaceful and safe country and not worry about my family”, reiterated Waed.
Hopeful despite resettling challenges
Since he moved to Geneva with his wife, Joyce Saad, who works for the United Nations, Waed, an economics graduate, is faced with more challenges that he must overcome. “Whenever I watch news reports of bombs and mortar attacks in my country, I fear for my mother”, he said.
For Waed to secure a job, he has to learn the official Geneva language – French. But that also proves a hurdle. “We have a single salary, with only my wife working. I am unable to afford the high cost of tuition for French classes”, he said.
When asked how he has coped in Geneva, he said, “We are hopeful. Two months ago I applied for a Swiss driving license. Every day I wake up, pray and move on with my job search”. “I have sent my CV to many organizations”.
The couple was introduced to ELCG by Kiki Lawal, and believe that the church is a welcoming community and a place for renewing hope. Waed said, “I found very nice people. I feel comfortable and we are happy coming to the Lutheran Church. My hope is always renewed here”.
For now he hopes that he will be able to get a job, learn French and invite his aging mother to Geneva, so that he is able to take care of her.

Charity concert

Both Waed and Joyce are passionate about their country. Through their friendship with the Sham Trio that dates back to their time in Damascus, they organized a charity concert in the church to raise funds for the Relief and Development Center, a Damascus Catholic diocese center working with refugees, women and displaced children.
Using qanoon, clarinet and percussion instruments, the Sham Trio based in Berlin, Germany, successfully performed a traditional Syrian music concert in ELCG on Saturday, July 1.

Maureen Gumbe and Dinesh Suna, both members of our congregation, live-streamed the concert on Facebook to 248 viewers. Valarie Marinoni summarized it well on Facebook: What a wonderful moment – we are truly blessed.

The full concert was video recorded (3 cameras, fully edited) and is available on our website – and also here below: