Cablegate: Syria Nominates Sister Clauda Isaiah Naddaf For


DE RUEHDM #0840/01 3371342
O 031342Z DEC 09




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. Summary: The U.S. Embassy in Damascus is honored to
nominate Sister Clauda Isaiah Naddaf (a.k.a. Sister
Marie-Claude) for the Secretary of State's International
Women of Courage Award. Working arduously and quietly in the
murky "no-man's land" between civil society activists and the
Syrian Arab Republic government (SARG), Sister Marie-Claude
Naddaf has championed the safety of women and young girls in
Syria-- whether they be victims of domestic violence,
trafficking, economically driven prostitution, or refugees --
since assuming the position of Mother Superior of the Good
Shepherd Convent in Damascus. By educating an indifferent
government, facing down the political sensitivities and
cultural taboos, reaching out to local and international
NGOs, and training a cadre of religious and secular women
activists, Sister Marie-Claude led the vanguard in
establishing the first of every kind of women's assistance
program in Syria, and paved the way for other successful
programs by such groups as the International Organization for
Migration. She has had a direct, life-changing impact on
thousands of women in Syria. Reftels directly or indirectly
speak to the works of Sister Marie-Claude and her convent.
End Summary.

2. Background: When Clauda Isaiah Naddaf assumed the role of
Mother Superior at the Good Shepherd Convent in Damascus,
Syria, in 1994, she could not have known she would be the
catalyst for a paradigm shift in the public's and SARG's
thinking about assisting women-in-need. Or that she would
successfully chip away at the code of silence surrounding
women and girls who have suffered sexual exploitation. The
Syria of 1994 offered no social services for women seeking
social, psychological, or legal assistance after suffering
domestic violence, homelessness, or trafficking -- Syrian
nationals or otherwise. Women trafficked into prostitution
were imprisoned for months on end with criminals until they
could be deported. Sister Marie-Claude set out to create a
range of services for women through her Damascus Convent that
included the equally formidable task of confronting a society
and government loath to acknowledge that violence against
women existed and even more reluctant to interfere in family

3. After convincing SARG officials that a women's shelter was
an imperative, Sister Marie-Claude and the convent opened
Syria's first women's shelter in 1996. The shelter continues
to host women of all nationalities; since the war in Iraq,
however, its beds have been filled with women and children
trafficked into Syria for sexual exploitation. Known as the
"Oasis shelter," the convent's work raised consciousness
among international and local NGOs, and created an important
precedent of government cooperation that has since led to the
opening of a dedicated victims of domestic violence shelter
as well as a trafficking-in-persons shelter. The domestic
violence shelter even borrowed its name directly from the
convent, calling itself "Oasis of Hope." Her consciousness
raising efforts have increasingly engaged the SARG, helping
prepare the way for two ministerial meetings with the Embassy
on TIP issues.

4. Sister Marie-Claude continued to press the SARG to expand
her access to women-in-need and eventually won access to
female prisoners at the Douma Women's Prison in Damascus. It
is a sad fact in Syria that many women are forced to raise
their children in prison. Sister Marie-Claude established a
special nursery in the prison to take care of children. She
also began a vocational education program in the prison to
eliminate illiteracy and provide training for skills that
will assist their reintegration into society. Along the way,
Sister Marie-Claude has trained a dozens of committed nuns
and civil society activists in shelter administration,
outreach, education programming, and more.

5. This capacity building enabled her to start the country's
first ever women's telephone hotline, which is attached to a
new emergency shelter where women can get legal advice,
psychological counseling, and temporary shelter 24 hours a
day. Additionally, Sister Marie-Claude navigated the
treacherous political waters of the Ministry of the Interior
and security services and won an agreement allowing her to
refer women in police custody to shelters if she or her staff
deemed the women to be victims of trafficking. In 2009, her
initiative led to the release of over 20 South Asian women
-- all of whom were trafficked domestic workers -- from Douma
prison into the custody of the dedicated shelter for
trafficked women.

6. Operating with approval from the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs and in the face of stiff SARG resistance, Sister
Marie-Claude has endured extra scrutiny from Syrian security
services for her cooperation with the U.S. Embassy to ensure
her staff had access to adequate funding and training. Her
willingness to work with us, however, did not diminish the
passion of her strong belief that the war in Iraq had cursed
a generation of women and generated a compelling need for a
broad humanitarian response.

7. A visit with Sister Marie-Claude is never an everyday
affair. She sits you down, unveils her vision for assisting
women in need, explains the moral framework in which she
operates, engages you in a discussion on how we, united,
might begin to alleviate suffering, and then you meet the
very women and girls to whom she has devoted herself. It is
a powerful experience. Her boundless energy, fiery
intelligence, and tremendous courage have won the respect of
SARG officials, diplomats, and NGOs alike. She has stood
firm in the face of political indifference and kicked down
the doors of cultural constraint to better (and very often
save) the lives of women and young girls who have found
themselves abandoned, beaten, on the street, or slaves to

8. Sister Marie-Claude was notified of the nomination and
informed Post she would be able to accept the award.

9. BIO DATA: Name: Clauda Isaiah Naddaf; DOB: 01/01/1944;
POB: Tartous Khrebat, Syria; Title: Mother Superior of the
Good Shepherd Convent in Damascus, Syria; Address: Good
Shepherd Sisters, Bab Touma, PO Box 22217, Damascus, Syria;
Tel: 00963-11-5443527; E-mail:;
Citizenship: Syrian; PPT#: 004543074; Languages: Arabic
(5/5), French (4/4), English (2/2, roughly).

10. POC: Post Contact for the nomination is Anthony Deaton,
Pol/Econ Section; e-mail:; Tel:
00963-3391-3207 (w), 00963-947-696-676 (m).

© Scoop Media

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