Cooking up a way to help Syria

by Sylvia Pownall
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A DUBLIN DJ who was smuggled into Syria as an aid worker has teamed up with his sibling to create a world-first charity cookbook.

The publication is the brainchild of Blanchardstown brothers Calvin and Andrew Sweeney, who hope the funds it raises will help displaced children and families in the war-torn region.

The unique illustrated Artists’ Cookbook features favourite recipes from 100 Irish and international artists, and the brothers will launch it at an art expo this weekend.

Aid worker Calvin was a trained medic and ambulance driver in Syria and often had the grim job of collecting body parts from victims blown apart in suicide and truck bombs.

He told The Gazette: “I was smuggled into Syria illegally and I got through 15 checkpoints dressed as a soldier.

“Nothing would prepare me for what I saw. I was taught to mend bones and apply an IV drip to Kurdish fighters, ISIS fighters, civilians … anyone injured. We helped everyone.

“We were effectively the clean-up team after a truck bomb killed 48 people and injured dozens more in July last year. We had the incredibly grim job of collecting body parts.”

Calvin worked in social care for a decade and specialised with young offenders and those with special needs before his first of six trips to Syria in 2012.

He said: “When people think of some Middle Eastern countries, the media would portray them as dangerous places but it wasn’t the case.

“They’re very normal people, very friendly, just trying to get on with their lives like the rest of us.

“We were working in a rescue centre on standby, so we had a lot of time for training. Some days I’d be teaching them English, and they’d be teaching me to drain a lung.”

Calvin helped his brother set up Syrias Vibes after Andrew returned from Cambodia wanting to help schoolchildren there, despite the fact he had been robbed a number of times and drugged while in the country.

He said: “I left the country in tears and a shadow of myself after seeing so many horrible things, but I kept thinking about a school I worked in over there and wanting to help.”

The brothers will share their fascinating stories with visitors at the annual Art Source event at the RDS from Friday, November 10 to Sunday, November 12.

More than 15,000 people are expected to attend the year’s biggest art show, which will give Irish art lovers the unique chance to get their hands on 100 pieces of original artwork for €100 each on a first-come, first-served basis.

The expo will feature more than 130 contemporary artists and 20 Irish and international galleries showcasing painting, sculpture, photography, illustration, prints and ceramic art.

This year, the show features interactive oil and resin painting demonstrations and there are free children’s art workshops for under-12s.

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