“Here I am, aged 31, asking for aid for the first time in my life”

Lebanon has fallen into the grip of a devastating economic crisis. For many Lebanese, circumstances have become so hard that they are asking for financial aid for the first time in their lives

UNICEF Lebanon
Nadia, holding her five-year-old son Ahmad
UNICEF2021/Simon-Balsom/Lebanon
31 January 2022

Over the past two years, Lebanon has fallen into the grip of a devastating economic and financial crisis. For 31-year-old mother of three, Sara*, their circumstances have become so hard that they are asking for financial aid for the first time in their lives.

“At the end of 2019, we were still doing fine”, Sara tells us at her home in Beirut. “My husband had a full-time job; the children were at school. Life was good”.

“Then Lebanon’s banking system began to collapse, COVID-19 hit, and on the 4th of August 2020, Beirut port exploded. Our life turned upside down. Now, we have nothing. My husband was unable to work for most of last year and barely works now. The children haven’t been to school for a year-and-a-half; we’re one year in arrears for our rent and are almost totally unable to support ourselves”.

Since 2020, Lebanon’s levels of poverty and vulnerability have massively increased, affecting the majority of the population.

“Here I am”, says Sara, “aged 31, asking for aid for the first time in my life”.

Vulnerable groups, including children, are being impacted the most, particularly due to major gaps in the national social assistance programme targeting those in extreme poverty. 

As a result, and building on its experience in providing social assistance for children’s wellbeing, UNICEF launched a national child grant for Lebanon’s children – ‘Haddi’ - linking monthly cash grants to much needed services.

“Every month, I plan to use the money differently. My children have new needs all the time”

The initiative responds to the current economic context by providing integrated social assistance to 110,000 vulnerable children in Lebanon – including Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinians.

With three children, Sara receives US$80 per month. All the money she receives she spends on her children, on basic needs as well as on items such as eyeglasses. However, she feels even items like this will become unobtainable ‘luxuries’ as her focus must soon turn to simply surviving.

“Every month, I plan to use the money differently. My children have new needs all the time”, she explains. “However, I’m sure it won’t be long before the money is used simply to feed them. Every day I have to make a smaller amount of food go just a little bit further”.

Sara, a 31-year-old mother-of-three sits in an unlit kitchen chopping vegetables
UNICEF2021/Simon-Balsom/Lebanon

Thirty-nine-year-old Nadia lives just a few minutes’ walk away from Sara’s home. Also with three children, the ability to provide for her children has continued to decline. “Until eighteen months ago, she says, “we could make ends meet”.

Today, Nadia and her husband, Markez, have significant debts. With only limited income from occasional casual work, the family has begun to sell assets including their washing machine. It provided a short-lived reprieve, but the money was soon gone.

“The regular support we’re now receiving through UNICEF is improving my children’s quality of life”, Nadia smiles, “but we’re still only buying basics – clothes, diapers, medicines. This is no time for luxuries”.

Markez, father of three young children at his home
UNICEF2021/Simon-Balsom/Lebanon

The 110,000 vulnerable children reached by Haddi were previously identified as in need of priority UNICEF services. It includes children involved in child labour or at risk of child marriage, those excluded from school, children with disabilities, even those who are poorly nourished. Every single child identified as in need of UNICEF priority programmes was enrolled into Haddi.

“We’re living a harsh life now. I keep as much of it as I can from my children. They’re so young; they don’t understand what’s happening in this country. They shouldn’t even have to try to understand,” another mother and new ‘Haddi’ beneficiary Dalal weeps.

“It’s opened a small window to a normal life”, she adds.

Najwa a grandmother at her home
UNICEF2021/Simon-Balsom/Lebanon

“Life is very hard for everyone in Lebanon now”, grandmother Najwa says. “Nothing is stable here and, although we’ve lost everything we ever worked for, I won’t lose my dignity”, she insists.

UNICEF’s ‘Haddi’ programme is provided in cash and in USD, ensuring caregivers have the dignity and freedom to decide how best to care for their own children.


Since June 2021, the families of 110,000 vulnerable Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian children have received ‘Haddi’ cash assistance of between US$40 and 80 per month, targeting those already identified within UNICEF programmes.

 

*All names have been changed at the request of the beneficiaries