An eastern suburb of Damascus almost completely vacated during the Syrian war has just seen a sliver of normal life return: a café launched by a local Christian.
Joseph Hakimeh, 42, was among the Irbin inhabitants who fled the town in July 2012 as the rebels took control over the area.
"When I returned to Irbin, the thought came to my mind that I should open a café here. There is no such place in the whole area!"
While many Christians did not yet feel comfortable returning to Irbin, because of security issues or having lost their homes, Joseph decided to go ahead with his plan supported by the Christian anti-persecution charity Open Doors.
"Al Yousef Café is a place for young people to gather, play games, and watch football and for families to have a nice dinner together," Joseph said.
"Our space is also used for conferences; we have already had a doctor doing an educational conference for women. It is the only spacious hall in the city."
Joseph is one of the beneficiaries of the income generating projects that Open Doors has supported in Syria through its Hope for the Middle East campaign.
The seven-year campaign that started six years ago was designed to give hope to Christians of the Middle East whose lives have been affected by military conflicts, economic collapse, displacement and persecution.
Through its local partners, Open Doors has invested in over 1,700 projects in Syria and Iraq, helping people like Joseph to start a café, a shop, a small factory, a workshop or supporting them with investments in their agricultural activities.
Joseph hopes that his success will inspire others to put efforts into helping their town to recover from the ashes of the war.
"My dream is that Irbin will be restored to how it was before the war," he says.
"I was born here and so were my wife and three children. The community is very family-friendly.
"The church has taught us loyalty and care and that we are one family. I was raised this way and I want my children to experience this as well. My children are a source of my hope."
Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians for over 60 years and works in over 60 countries. In 2020, it raised £42 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources. Open Doors UK & Ireland raised about £16 million.