“I have nothing left to sell to help feed my children; nothing left of myself to give”
Until 2019, Hanan’s life was typically unremarkable, yet happy. When we visit the Lebanese 29-year-old mother in her home, 2021’s reality presents an altogether different picture
As Lebanon’s unprecedented economic crisis deepens, the number pushed into severe hardship continues to rise dramatically. The past two years have seen the poverty rate double to 82 per cent. With nearly 4 million people living in poverty today, they represent around 1 million households, including 745,000 Lebanese-national families. Each has its own story to tell, and each reveals lives of hidden and increasing desperation.
Hanan* is a mother of four children aged between 8 and 13. Her husband, Tarek*, owned a barbershop close to their home in a suburb of Tripoli in northern Lebanon.
Until 2019, Hanan’s life was typically unremarkable, yet happy.
Although there was little scope for luxuries in their life, she recalls they could give their children what they needed, the family was well-fed, well-dressed, and they felt secure. Education has always been a priority, and she’s proud of how well her children performed at school.
When we visit the Lebanese 29-year-old mother in her home, 2021’s reality presents an altogether different picture.
“I’ve had to sell my carpets, my TV, and now my furniture piece by piece just to have enough money to survive”
Hanan apologises for the child’s bed which blocks the landing outside her apartment. “It’ll only be there for a while longer,” she says, averting her eyes. “I’ve had to sell my carpets, my TV, and now my furniture piece by piece just to have enough money to survive.” Her daughter’s bed will be collected by its new owner later in the day.
In Lebanon, thousands of families are barely surviving in 2021. For many here, life has never been easy but, until 2019, it was somehow manageable.
However, the compound crises of instability and an economic meltdown combined with COVID-19’s effect on society and August 2020’s Beirut port explosions have delivered a hammer blow to the prospects and quality of life for most of Lebanon’s residents. Unemployment has rocketed and, over the two years prior to June 2021, the inflation rate amounted to 281 per cent.
Hanan’s husband was forced to close his business in 2020, and, shutting his door with outstanding debts, the landlord took possession of his equipment, the valuable tools of Tarek’s trade.
Without an income and facing rising prices, Hanan was unable to find the money to cover school transportation costs. For the first time, and for many months, her children missed lessons.
On the day we visit, they are happily back in class.
Their father borrowed money to buy enough essential equipment to once again earn a living cutting hair and trimming beards. For months, he walked the streets of Abou Samra, offering his services to passers-by. Recently he secured a job in another local barbershop, where he now works six days a week and earns LBP150,000 (around US$7.50 at average black-market exchange rates).
Yet, Hanan tells us, she fears she will soon once again be unable to pay for her children’s transport.
“Until 2019, I used to pay LBP1,000 a day for each child’s fare”, she recalls. “Now it is as much as LBP10,000. We just don’t have forty-thousand a day even for food, never mind school”.
Constantly wiping tears from her cheeks, Hanan painfully relates her story, but she’s eager for it to be told.
“We’ve always raised our children the best way we could,” she says. “So, adapting to the way we’re living now is affecting them heavily.”
Her eldest daughter has developed a skin condition connected to her feelings of depression, and her thirteen-year-old son works after school washing cars to earn a meagre LBP5,000 – equivalent to 25 cents – a day.
Hanan’s health has suffered too. Only 29, and in outwardly good health, under the stress of her family’s living conditions, she suffered a minor stroke. Supported by regular visits from her mother, for now, the household remains together.
With rent on the apartment now LBP700,000, up from LBP300,000 last year, she worries about losing their home.
“No one can manage their own lives right now"
“I can’t even talk to my mother about just how dire our situation is,” Hanan whispers. “No one can manage their own lives right now, and I don’t want to give her the extra burden of worrying about her grandchildren and us.”
Financial desperation on such a large scale is previously unknown amongst Lebanese. Even during its regular periods of internal conflict, somehow, the economy stayed alive. As such, colossal stigma remains amongst the newly impoverished Lebanese.
“My children are ashamed that we live like this,” she says. “Sometimes we see people on the street giving bread to the poor. My son begs me not to go and ask for some for us, even though he knows we need it”.
The lunches she packs her children off to school with daily have been getting smaller. Today, she sent them out for the first time with nothing more than schoolbooks in their bag. “I have nothing in the cupboard to give them,” she weeps. “Today –she says--, I have nothing left to sell to help feed my children”. “I have nothing left of myself to give.”
UNICEF has refocused its efforts to reach more families caught up in this unprecedented crisis, struggling to afford even the most basic items. We have enhanced our social assistance, we are providing emergency support to avoid the collapse of the public water services, and we are supporting thousands of children to ensure their access to education, healthcare and child protection services. Yet, the needs are massive, and UNICEF needs more support to reach more vulnerable children.
Lear more on UNICEF’s response to the multiple crises hitting Lebanon https://uni.cf/3oxX52P
* the family’s identity is disguised, and names changed at their request