Monday, 1 February 2016
Covert $34m UK program helping Syrians with skills and knowledge for life after war
'Dotted across the north-eastern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, which border Turkey, in the rural suburbs of Damascus and in the southern province of Deraa, almost 40 communities are functioning outside both regime control or the influence of Islamists such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State. This is the real "free Syria".
Civilian councils are implementing projects covering everything from the supply of water and electricity and other essential services, to education and health facilities, vocational training, women's empowerment, road building and good governance. It is being funded by a covert $34 million program run by the British Government's Department for International Development (DFID) — and it has already directly benefited more than 1.4 million Syrians.
"If we are not providing services, then the armed groups will. That's bad, especially if they are Islamist. For example, we provide vocational training to 15 to 18 year olds. They are learning skills and in a few months will be ready to work, to earn. If they were not in training they would be on the front lines. We are trying to get these people's lives as close to normal as possible."
One the communities Mr Shayyah manages is Darret Azzeh, a city of 40,000 people with another 60,000 living on its outskirts, in rural Aleppo. The city fell out of regime control to the Free Syrian Army in 2012. It was one of the first areas to rise up against President Bashar Assad when protests broke out in 2011, demanding freedom, equality and dignity. When the movement developed into an armed insurgency, the city became a symbol of the revolution's resilience, with Free Syrian Army rebels weathering aerial bombardment from regime aircraft and attacks from Islamist radicals.
"The people of Syria were never asked for their opinions. We are asking them what they need. They are getting the chance to express their democratic opinion and learning how to run things ... away from systems of nepotism and corruption." '