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Roy Moussalli is the founder and director of the Syrian Society for Social Development (SSSD). Thanks to a network of 1,800 staff and volunteers, the organization has been in a position to provide for 200,000 people in several Syrian cities and towns.
Rebuilding Lives

“Many people are homeless and have nowhere to go. They are in desperate need of food and shelter and they are not safe. But what they need most is hope for a future worth living. We are doing our best to help and trying to shine a ray of hope,” says Roy Moussalli, the founder and director of the Syrian Society for Social Development (SSSD), a humanitarian organization providing victims of war in Syria with much-needed relief.

Although formally established in 2009, the leaders of SSSD have been helping disadvantaged youth since 2000. Thanks to a network of 1,800 staff and volunteers, the organization is now in a position to provide for 200,000 people in several Syrian cities and towns. “These people don’t have the means to flee the war, and many of them don’t want to. They’re waiting for the war to end because they want to return to their villages and cities to rebuild their lives,” Roy explains.

When Roy talks of his relief mission in Syria, his love and compassion for those in need shine through.

He firmly believes in the good in people. “Give them a chance and they will open up to you,” he says with conviction.

Today Roy Moussalli is 60 years old and knows enough about human nature – he’s been able to spot people in need of help since he was 20. Unlike many others Roy has never been able to “look the other way.” This character trait has greatly influenced his choice of path in life.

Eissa changed everything

Born in Damascus, Roy Moussalli was still a child when his family moved to Lebanon. After completing his studies in mechanical engineering at the American University in Beirut he returned to Syria in 1979 for military service. After he was discharged he took a managing position at Allied Diesel, a distributor for General Motors in the Middle East. Up until then Roy’s life in Damascus seemed relatively normal, but the young man could not help questioning its meaning and ultimate purpose.

One day, some friends volunteering at the Faith and Light community for the mentally challenged asked Roy to look after a boy.

“Eissa changed my life,” Roy says. “He radiated joy and was full of energy. He was the one who taught me what life is all about.”

The two of them forged a deep and lasting friendship. “The better I got to know these people, the more I wanted to be there for them,” says Roy. That was not always easy because he had a demanding job that left little free time for anything else. In 1983 Roy became a partner with Allied Diesel and started dedicating more time to helping people in need to the best of his ability.

In 1998 Roy took an advisory position at the British NGO Questscope. In 2006 he quit his engineering job and fully dedicated himself to the plight of others. After its establishment in 2009, SSSD began working with the Khaled bin Al Waleed Juvenile Center, implementing a mentoring program with its wardens. “These young people had a troubled past: they were either awaiting trial or already had a criminal record,” Roy says.

Many of those Roy took into his care found their way back to society. “I remember Abdurrahmane, a young man who had been disowned by his parents after they divorced. He had committed a few misdemeanors and was acting up at home – a juvenile’s typical cry for help,” Roy remembers. The efforts Roy invested in reuniting father and son eventually paid off. “The day he met his dad at the center, after everything that had happened, he seemed like the luckiest guy on earth.” Abdurrahmane realized he had been given a chance to make up for his wrongdoing, and he seized it. He started helping his father, looked after his half-brothers and went back to school. “It’s important to show these young people the consequences their actions have for others, that society is benevolent and worth belonging to, that the world out there is welcoming them,” says Roy.

War changed everything too

Since the violence in Syria erupted, Roy’s focus has shifted from working with the marginalized to helping the entire population – practically everyone in the country is a victim of war. Roy set out to help as many as he can. He and his network of employees and volunteers are providing relief in Syria’s capital Damascus and other partially demolished cities, including Aleppo, Hama and Homs. “When he have electricity, we cook. When we have water, we wash. And we fill any bucket and canister available to the brim to provide for the many days the tap is dry. The people in Syria are fighting to stay alive day by day,” Roy says. “You never know where the next bomb will land.“

People in Syria seek shelter in bombed-out homes half reduced to rubble. They squat in school and municipal buildings transformed into collective housing, sharing former classrooms and offices with many of their compatriots. “Besides constantly having to worry about finding ways to survive the next day, people have no privacy in such cramped quarters whatsoever. Many women have lost their husbands and fathers – there is no one left to take care of their families but themselves. What they need is not only food, safety and medical care, but also psychosocial support. They need understanding and compassion,” Roy underlines.

This is why leaving the country is not an option for him. “These people need me, need us where they are,” he says.

Roy’s hopes for the future? An end to the war, because there is one thing he knows for sure: “Violence breeds more violence. The only way to make peace that lasts is by talking to each other. These people are suffering losses that cannot be compensated for.”