Cash Transfers - It’s not a handout – it’s a hand up!
Social protection for migrant families
Fleeing violence and fighting for survival
Could you survive without any regular income? For migrants like Elizabeth and her family –this is their reality which they face with grit and tenacity! For fourteen years Elizabeth’s workday began at 4:00am packing bananas on a farm, laboring to earn a meagre salary to care for her four children. A native of Honduras, Elizabeth came to Belize when she was only 19 years old. Fleeing war and violence in her hometown, she migrated with dreams of building a better life in Belize living free from fear and trauma.
“The area where I came from is very violent and I was traumatized having to deal with war. After the war it was difficult to live in Honduras and so I left my elderly mother back home and moved here alone.”
But this newfound freedom and tranquility had its own cost and Elizabeth would soon realize that living in Belize, as a migrant, would have its challenges. She was young, alone and had little education, familial or social support in Belize. She would eventually meet her partner there and together they would squat and later claim a parcel of southern Belize to call their own.
As we walk the grounds of Elizabeth’s family home it bears witness to the myriad of ways, they have lovingly reared their children and worked the land to take care of their family. Raising a first-generation of Belizean born children; Elizabeth is enterprising and has been resourceful, capitalizing on every opportunity to earn income. She rears chicken and pigs and sells the produce. She bakes tortillas daily and sells to her community netting about $15-25 dollars a day. Elizabeth resigned a few years ago to take care of their children as they could not afford care a giver. Her partner continues to work on the banana farm and does additional odd jobs to provide for the family. Yet, despite their greatest efforts the family has continued to live in poverty, a situation further worsened due to the pandemic.
Consequently, the family fell behind on bills like electricity and school fees for the three children attending the Government Primary School in their community.
Improving standards of living through the Cash Plus Pilot Programme
It is families like these that make the case for the increased need for social assistance programmes in Belize. In 2022, UNICEF, as part of its support to the Government to increase access to social protection programmes for the most vulnerable families, jointly implemented a cash plus pilot programme for migrant children through a close partnership with the Ministry of Human Development, Families and Indigenous Affairs, Belize Red Cross and DigiWallet Ltd, with generous funding from the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, US Department of State. Families like Elizabeth’s have been selected to benefit from the programme receiving 800 BZE (400 USD) for each child in 4 disbursements using an innovative payment mechanism through partnership with local mobile wallet provider DigiWallet Ltd. This public, private partnership allows UNICEF to safely engage families with the convenience of delivering the cash to the palm of their hands – giving them financial independence to address their challenges and make immediate tangible improvements in the lives of families and children.
To date Elizabeth has received a total of 3200 BZE (1600 USD) to support her family. She’s invested this on some of the families’ immediate needs including clearing her children’s outstanding school fees and purchasing uniform, shoes and food. The family has also invested in purchasing a cooler to operate an ice business selling ice and cold cups to the community. They have also been able to make much-needed renovations to their home, purchasing fixtures, plywood, door and even toilet seats to upgrade their bathroom.
Not only does Elizabeth receive the cash but she is able to join various capacity building sessions to learn a trade that can be used to support her family. Two-weeks ago Elizabeth attended the Barbering class where she learnt to professionally cut hair.
“I got to learn new things and socialize with people I didn’t know. In the twenty years I’ve been in Belize this is the first time I am getting this kinda help. I want to give thanks to UNICEF because I will use this help to get better.”