by Erin Hunninghake
Special to The Leaven
Posted by the Leaven on March 31, 2017

ATCHISON — It is 6,396 miles from Atchison to Aleppo, Syria.

Not far enough for one Maur Hill – Mount Academy senior to decide it wasn’t his problem.

When Christopher Rziha’s mother forwarded him an email from a woman named Danielle Blosser and an organization named Questscope, he read it with interest.

The email was soliciting emergency funds for the refugee centers providing aid for those displaced by the violence in Aleppo.

Rziha wanted more information — about the problems in the war-torn country and what Questscope was doing about it.

So, Rachel Stone, Questscope communications officer, explained its work in an email to the Atchison resident.

“For over 25 years, Questscope has worked inside Jordan and Syria and the MENA region with young people and their communities whose lives have been devastated by war and poverty,” Stone wrote. “We provide alternative education, mentorship (including spiritual formation and psychosocial support) and emergency assistance.

“In the current crisis inside Syria, Questscope has supported over 600,000 people who have been made homeless (internally displaced) by this conflict in over 100 locations throughout the country.”

“Our team of 300 staff and 1,500 volunteers,” Stone concluded, “provides food, water, medicine, sanitation, psychosocial counseling and support, nonfood items (primarily clothing) and education for out-of-school children. We are currently among the largest distributors of emergency food aid in Aleppo, where one third of our Syria team currently operates.”

That was enough for Rziha.

He took the idea of raising money for Aleppo to St. Benedict Parish pastor Father Jeremy Heppler, OSB. Together, they brainstormed ideas.

“We were leaning more toward how we can use the talents of our community and parish,” said Father Jeremy. “We knew there was a lot of musical talent here.

“Christopher basically took it from there.”

Father Jeremy said he has been impressed with the senior’s initiative to take on a project of this magnitude.

“He really took the lead on this and showed what we can all do if we put our minds to it,” said Father Jeremy. “He’s done such a good job with it all.”

The concert, which will be held April 8 at 8 p.m. in Atchison’s Benedictine College O’Malley-McAllister Auditorium, will feature local music groups, including the MH-MA show choir and jazz band, Atchison High School’s Adrenaline, the Shiloh Baptist Church band and the Benedictine College men’s choir.

Nadia Schroeder, a professor of Arabic at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, will also be in attendance to make opening remarks. Schroeder has worked actively with Questscope and will provide more insight into the current situation in Aleppo.

Rziha said the response from the participating groups has been very positive.

“I think people are excited because it’s local and for a good cause,” he said. “It’s a way for our community to come together to support an organization that needs this money.”

Rziha said those in attendance can expect the concert to be of high quality and very diverse.

“The music groups in Atchison are very talented,” he said. “There also won’t be a lot of crossover between the genres, which will keep it interesting.”

Rziha and Father Jeremy both expect the night to be a bit of an eye-opener, as well, for those unfamiliar with the conditions in Syria.

“I think it will be a very enjoyable night that will cause people to think about their life and what they have in relation to others who may not be able to enjoy all the comforts of home or may not even have a home,” Rziha said.

“I’m hoping for awareness, a good time at a concert and generosity in supporting this organization,” said Father Jeremy.

Although this is the first time Rziha has planned a large event, he feels the support he has received has carried him through.

“I’m really grateful for the support I’ve received in putting this all together,” he said. “It helps me to know that it’s God’s will when it all falls into place so perfectly.

“Stuff I would have never even dreamed being able to do — all the people that were in my life at the right time — I’m grateful to God for that.”