Lebanon is a country of 4 million people strained by the influx of more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees. More than six years into the Syrian crisis, Lebanon’s employment policies and regulations against formal refugee settlements have meant that many families are forced to take drastic measures to cover rent, meals, education and other basic needs. Families may go into debt, cut back on meals, sell property or send their children to work. Desperation even drives some refugees to exchange sex for rent or to force their daughters into early marriage to have one less mouth to feed.
These vulnerable families simply want a way to restore dignity and opportunity to their lives. That’s where Relief International’s unconditional cash assistance program steps in. With support from the U.S. State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BPRM), RI provides $175 a month for six months to 1,140 of the most vulnerable families in the underserved communities of North, Bekaa, Beirut and Mount Lebanon.
Families receive this cash unconditionally, giving them control over their purchasing decisions and prioritization of needs. Data shows that cash recipients primarily use the money for rent, food and health care.
Equally important are the 15 communications hubs run by RI’s local partners and two mobile communications units that provide information about health care, enrichment opportunities and other programs for more than 90,000 households in refugee and host communities. People also use these safe spaces to charge their electronics and browse the Internet. These hubs function almost like community centers. Services include:
- Recreational activities for children
- Vocational training for adults in hair dressing, sewing, knitting and painting
- Skills training in first aid, computer programs and English
- Health promotion workshops on breastfeeding, family planning, nutrition, hygiene and food safety
Now in its third consecutive year, the newest phase of this program will offer training from BBC Media Action to three local NGOs: Basmeh and Zeitouneh (North), Hadatha (Akkar), and Nabbad (Bekaa). These local partner organizations — selected after submitting proposals to RI — will learn social media content creation, blogging and the ethics of social media production. They will also implement community projects such as theatrical performances to raise awareness of important health and legal issues.
In addition, RI supports 200 children with conditional cash assistance aimed at keeping them in school. The cash is given to cover the families’ expenses, including school fees and transportation, obstacles that often prevent these children from staying enrolled in school. This cash assistance also reduces the risk of children being forced to leave school in order to work for money.
Overall, RI’s cash assistance program helps Syrian refugees maintain their dignity by prioritizing their own needs and deciding where to spend their funds. By partnering with local organizations and empowering them with communication opportunities, RI continues to build a sustainable foundation for them to improve their own well-being.