Lending a helping hand
With no end in sight to Lebanon’s unprecedented crisis, UNICEF’s cash grant for children provides a lifeline for the most vulnerable, who are finding it even more difficult to make ends meet
BOURJ HAMOUD – Like so many others in Lebanon, Malak, a 57-year-old mother of six, struggles to feed her family and keep them healthy, but says UNICEF’s ‘Haddi’ child grant support has been a lifeline.
UNICEF launched Haddi – Arabic for “next to me” – in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Affairs, in 2021, to help the most vulnerable families meet the costs of raising children at the height of a crisis of unprecedented proportions.
For more than two years, Lebanon has been assailed by compounding crises. The combination of a record economic meltdown, the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of massive explosions in Beirut plunged the vast majority of the population into poverty, with a severe and lasting impact on children and youth.
“Without Haddi, we would be living on the streets”
“I have worked my entire life to raise my family, even during war, yet in vain,” says Malak, tears welling in her eyes. Her husband lost his job to the crisis. Malak says she was forced to sell what little jewellery she had, even her husband’s wedding ring. She had to send her youngest child, a five-year-old boy, to institutions to make sure he gets enough food. Her other five children, who range in age from 16 to 30, all live with her.
“Meat, poultry and fish are a luxury we cannot afford anymore,” says Malak. She says she can’t even afford menstrual products for herself and her three daughters. “Sometimes I use the same pad for a long period of time to allow enough pads for my daughters.”
Her family almost lost their home to the crisis before they were included in the Haddi programme. “Without Haddi, we would be living on the streets,” says Malak, who lives in Bourj Hamoud, in the Beirut outskirts.
With prices of consumer goods reaching all-time highs – inflation was a staggering 240 per cent over the year to January 2022 – numerous people in Lebanon find themselves forced to resort to negative coping practices, including cutting down on food, health and children’s education expenses, and even sending children to work to supplement the household’s income.
Children across Lebanon are particularly hard hit; their physical and mental health are at risk and their very future is at stake. “I feel that my children are depressed and enduring beyond their tolerance,” says Malak.
Malak vividly recalls the Beirut Port explosions that rocked the city in August 2020, causing widespread destruction, killing 200 people and injuring more than 6,500, including 1,000 children. “I was walking with my husband towards my sister’s house and the explosions happened. I ran to search for my daughter…The shockwaves threw her into a wall.” Malak is still visibly shaken as she recounts the fateful day. “I recall this moment every day. It is since then that I am taking a lot of medications.”
Every family in Lebanon is affected by the crisis in some way or another. For the most vulnerable children and their families, it is an issue of survival, and for them, Haddi is critical. The programme provides monthly cash grants in US dollars, as well as additional services when needed. The funds are given directly to households through a money transfer agency.
Child grants are considered one of the most effective interventions to improve child well-being, reduce inequality and invest in a country as a whole.
Haddi benefits 85,000 Lebanese and non-Lebanese families, with 130,000 vulnerable people registered in the programme. All children receiving priority services through UNICEF were enrolled within Haddi to receive a cash grant - meaning children at risk of child labour or child marriage, children with disabilities, children in non-formal education and children needing nutrition support. Families with one child identified as vulnerable receive US$40 a month, those with two children, $60, and households with three or more children, $80.
Malak says that when she learned she was included in the programme, she exclaimed: “Thanks God” Her family now receives $80 a month, which she withdraws at a money transfer agency near her home. “You should see my face when I receive the message to collect the money, as if I won the lottery.”
 Name changed to protect her identity.