For the past three years, Hanan and Omar Al-Ahmad have lived in Fayda, a refugee settlement in east Lebanon, with their six children. They fled the spiralling war in Syria in a gruelling day-long journey from Damascus to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley during which they were detained and interrogated several times.
After a challenging 18 months in Fayda, the Ahmad family were made beneficiaries of the Lebanon Cash Consortium program. The LCC was established by six international NGOs to improve the basic living situation of vulnerable Syrian refugees in Lebanon through a monthly $175 cash assistance scheme.
“We do not have jobs. Sometimes during the summer Hanan and I work for farmers to make a little money, but other than that and the Lebanon Cash Consortium, we have absolutely no other source of income. It is humiliating,” Omar told World Vision. “I have to pay $1,000 a year on rent alone. How can one pay his rent without having a job? How can one pay for food or for medical expenses or even education without a job? One cannot.”
Omar recalled how last winter his 14-year-old daughter Athra was forced to climb on top of the family’s tent in the middle of the night to shovel snow and prevent their fragile home from collapsing. Sometimes, the tent would partially crumble under the weight of the frozen ice, leaving their blankets and mattresses soaking. On an average winter’s day, puddle of water would gather in the spaces between the tent and the floor.
Athra and her younger sister Batoul, both wearing colorful abayas, told World Vision how much they missed school back in Syria. Athra’s favorite subject was Arabic and dreamt of becoming an Arabic teacher when she grew up. Batoul, meanwhile, wanted to be a fashion sewer. But with the family’s finances so tight, only two of the six children can afford to attend school: eleven-year-old Khaled and eight-year-old Abboud.
Khaled and Abboud have been going to school for two months and are learning how to read and write. It is the most normal part of their lives, where they interact with other children and make friends.
Although the Ahmad family are relatively safe in Lebanon, the war over the border continues to inflict much suffering refugees like them, whether it is through the death of relatives, forced displacement, the destruction of homes, collapse of businesses and livelihoods or, as in the case of the Ahmad daughters, the abrupt end of education.
The Lebanon Cash Consortium gives families the freedom and flexibility to make simple decisions about how to spend their money. Omar and Hanan choose to spend 60,000 Lebanese pounds ($40) on their two boys’ education each month. The parents see it as a vital lifelong investment in their children’s futures. Without enough money to place the four girls in education too, Omar and Hanan are left hoping that marriage can offer them a route out of poverty.
“Education should be mandatory and free for all. But although it is neither mandatory nor free, I will not compromise on my children’s education ,” Omar said. “Our financial situation is far from ideal due to the war in Syria. As a parent, you always want the best for your kids. I cannot give them everything, I cannot give them much at this time, but I will make sure to give them some sort of education. An education is a weapon, a weapon which they will carry with them forever.”
As well as schooling for Abboud and Khaled, the family uses the cash from the LCC primarily for rent, medical bills and food for their kids.
As World Vision were chatting to Hanan, four-year-old Bushra ran in and whispered in her mother’s ear: “I want an ice cream!” This simple treat would not have been possible without support from the European Union-funded LCC, which empowers families to take simple daily decisions for themselves and provide a more normal life for their children.
When Abboud was asked what he wishes he could have if his parents could afford it, he said a schoolbag. At the moment, Abboud carries his books in a flimsy plastic bag that regularly tears opens leaving his schoolwork lying in the mud.
Meanwhile when Khaled was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, a smile broke across his face. “I want to become a pilot so that I can fly my family and I back to Syria,” he said.
Chloe Younes, Communications, World Vision Lebanon