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Founded in 2003, the Center for Environmental and Social Development is one of the first non-profit organizations to work towards human rights in Syria. Journalist Issam Khoury formed ETCC in 2003 in Syria, with the initial focus of environmental and economic development. These programs positively impacted Syrian youth and provided a lasting effect on civil society. During 2003-2005, ETCC, then consisting of 100 members, launched cleanup and restoration efforts along the Syrian coast. This included cleanup and afforestation activities along mountainous regions.
Due to a changing political climate in the Middle East, we decided to participate in journalist training sessions, helping students to craft their own investigative articles about development in Syria and the Middle East.
In the beginning of 2005, our website (ETCCSY.org) was completely shut down by the Syrian government. All articles, photos, videos, interviews, and memos documenting harsh truths in Syria and the Middle East were wiped from the public view. The website was viewed by around 400,000 Middle Easterners at the time. The government, fearing widespread public knowledge of dissenting information which exposed them, felt it was in their best interest to delete the site. ETCC continued under a new domain, (ETCCSY.com) but it was once again banned in the middle of 2005.
In order to avoid a third shutdown and continue to inform the public, our electronic newsletter (Monitor) was created, the first of its kind in the Arab world. E-mail blasts were sent out to thousands of recipients who chose to provide us with their contact information. The e-mails contained reports in a Microsoft Word attachment which could not be edited. Monitor featured information regarding important non-profit organizations operating in the Middle East & North Africa, local information about Syria,and reports on Millennium Goals and democracy in the Middle East. In 2007, due to the vast expansion of similar activist websites and organizations across the Middle East, we decided to work on different development projects, such as EuroMed. Monitor’s popularity transformed our writers into some of the most well known journalists in the Arab World. Because of this, our writers continued to be arrested and interrogated by Syrian government officials.
Since its founding, ETCC participated in various projects in the Middle East, such as World Social Forum, Arab Social Forum, and governance and journalist training. In order to gain experience and better grasp the concept of development, we sent our members to other countries in the region, where they become better familiarized with training-to-training programs, gender equality facilitation, children’s and women’s rights initiatives, democratic and youth projects, and environmental stability. Upon their return, they were able to provide training to those who support civil society and change inside Syria. ETCC has also assisted local non-profit organizations with their work in environmental health, autism and disability awareness. Through our coordination with political activists in Syria, we have advocated for programs to support democracy and advocacy in the region.
We then created a training program to share our own expertise for non-profits and NGO’s, which have attracted activists in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Somalia, and Iraq. Our activities challenge the concept of dictatorship and call for complete democracy and equal human rights in the MENA region. They allow for organizations to better implement their own effective strategies and improve decision making skills.
From 2009-2011, the Syrian government placed a travel ban upon multiple members of ETCC. Due to this constraint, our work during this time mostly focused on the situation inside Syria, and less on the MENA Region. Training sessions continued to operate between the coastal areas and the northeastern cities and villages. We succeeded in increasing our viewership as well as membership, now standing at 200 members inside Syria alone. They cover news regarding the Syrian Civil War, and document human rights abuses. ETCC often coordinates with international official media press in order to share our reports and findings.
When the Arab Spring began in 2011, our members were active in their support for the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions. When the Syrian Revolution began, we were among the first to document human rights abuses during the crackdown of peaceful protesters. As the global and regional media do not often have journalists on the ground in Syria, we provided them with detailed and accurate reports about the ongoing crisis in various cities in Syria.
ETCC continues to release articles, documents, and reports on the Syrian Revolution and civil war. We speak out against terrorism and radicalism, and we analyze the situation in the MENA region during the post-Arab Spring era. Across the MENA region, ETCC provides training for journalists and citizen journalists in the digital media field. We will continue to fully advocate for and support peaceful democratic initiatives in the Middle East and North Africa.