For 90 young people with profound learning difficulties, the Mustard Seed centre in Homs Old City offers a lifeline of hope in a broken world.
Set up by the Sacred Heart Sisters, the centre was the only one of its kind to remain open all through the recent conflict that devastated so much of the city.
During that time, the centre was forced to relocate twice to escape the violence. When at last they returned to their original premises they found that recently departed Al Nusra Front extremists had turned it into a command centre.
At the height of the conflict, the jihadis had ripped up the flagstones from the courtyard and turned it into a vegetable patch in the absence of regular food supplies.
Now, with ACN’s help, the centre is being restored and the young people – aged between four and 30 – are back. Open each day from 8.30am to 1.30pm, the daily programme begins with breakfast followed by basic skills learning including personal hygiene training, literacy and numeracy, sewing, carpentry, music and theatre.
Educational coordinator Rafif Elias said: “The parents of our young people are very appreciative of what we are doing. They often say they don’t know how they’d cope without us, especially as ours is the only service of its kind which is free of charge.”