Lebanon, June 1, 2018
If you met a hungry child, would you give her a blanket?
Relief International believes in giving families what they need most.
More and more, that means giving them something revolutionary: cash.
Often delivered using debit cards, mobile phones or vouchers, cash programming allows families to pay rent, buy food, send children to school or accomplish whatever they determine to be their priorities. Just like families everywhere. And cash comes with other advantages.
“Cash is a really important tool for Relief International,” says Valerie Rowles, RI’s country director in Lebanon.“It gets lots of different jobs done at once: it meets people’s needs. It gives them the dignity of choice. And it helps contribute to the local economy. It really allows us to offer the best solution for each individual situation.”
Skeptics sometimes question whether families will use the money to indulge vices. In fact, more than a dozen studies have shown that families who receive cash often buy less alcohol and tobacco, and their overall welfare improves.
In addition to Lebanon, RI has used cash to beat back famine, address the aftermath of floods, support refugees and restore dignity to families in countries including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar, Somalia and Yemen. A recent visit to Lebanon offers special insight into the powerful nature of cash.
From Failing to Fabulous
What kind of kid wishes for more homework? The kind with big dreams.
“I wish Relief International’s homework support would continue over the summer,” says 13-year-old Joury Al Yehyia.
Joury fled Syria with her family four years ago and now lives in Lebanon’s rural Bekaa Valley. Before her family enrolled in RI’s Cash for Education program, Joury was failing 7th grade. Now, with the program’s weekly tutoring, Joury is at the top of her class, with superior grades in science and math, her favorite subject. She can see her dream on the horizon.
“I want to be a pediatrician,” she says. “I want to help sick children.”
RI’s Cash for Education program, supported by the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, gives refugee families a stipend of $52 per month for each child enrolled in the program. The money can be used any way they want, on one condition: the children stay in school and participate in RI’s homework support program, which runs throughout the school year. The program currently supports nearly 500 children in Lebanon’s central Bekaa Valley. These include Joury’s younger siblings, Iman and Ahmed. Eleven-year-old Iman dreams of being a dentist. Ahmad, who is in second grade, wants to be an astronaut.
“I want to go to Mars to discover and explore,” says Ahmad, who loves math and Arabic language classes.
The family receives a total of $156 from Relief International each month, which they use to pay for transportation to school and part of their rent. The cash helps fuel the children’s dreams and their mother’s hopes.
“I’m hoping and praying they will get a good quality education, so that they can go back to Syria and go to university,” says their mom, Ghada. “Then we can say that at least one good thing came out of being in Lebanon.”
Cash Makes a House More like a Home
Fayez El Mohamad and his wife Zahra sit in their two-room tent, the walls hung with the curtains from their home near Aleppo. The clock on the wall was a wedding gift from Zahra’s mother when they married 12 years ago.
“It is my favorite thing in the house,” Zahra says. “It reminds me of the good days.”
The family fled to Lebanon early in Syria’s civil war, when an overnight raid destroyed all but one home in the village — theirs.
“I went to bed in a village, I woke up in ashes,” Fayez says. “Everyone was dead.”
Fayez and Zahra and their five children now live in a tent settlement plunked incongruously among the lush fields and snow-capped mountains of Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Before Relief International began providing cash assistance to the Mohamads, this home was one room, composed of a flimsy wood frame and plastic sheeting distributed by refugee agencies. Sturdy planks now reinforce the walls and heavy-gauge tarpaulin provides better cover from the elements. And, of course, the curtains and clock have arrived, sent by Zahra’s parents when they too were forced to flee their home in Syria and could no longer keep their daughter’s items.
Relief International, with support from the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, provides $175 per month to the seven-person family with no conditions. With the cash, the Mohamads pay the $50 rent plus electricity fees, and buy cleaning supplies, diapers for their 1-year-old daughter, and fresh fruits and vegetables that are not part of food aid. Jars of preserved vegetables line the small kitchen. Fayez also covers the rent for his brother’s wife and four daughters, who live a few tents down. His brother disappeared in Syria six years ago and has not been heard from since.
But the money only goes so far. It is not enough, for instance, to pay for transportation to a doctor’s office for Zahra, who is four months pregnant.
Fayez, who was a janitor in Aleppo, cannot read or write. He longs to work, but a hernia prevents him from doing any of the jobs available to him, mostly in construction.
“I would like to work,” he says. “I would feel useful. Not like sitting around all day doing nothing.”
For now, the children are in school, Fayez says, and they almost have enough money to get by. But they long to relocate, to a place with better schools, where they can have a real home, not a tent. Someplace, he says, like Syria.
“The only thing we think about is whether the war will end,” he says. “Will we have a chance to go back to our life? Your country is the best place in the world for you.”
U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration