Eyad, a Syrian refugee, used to spend nights at the coffee shop in Northern Lebanon, protectively watching over Tariq, his 13-year-old son who worked night shifts there, often not finishing until 3 in the morning. His son was the sole earner in the family, and his daily wages equivalent to a few US dollars went towards the family’s survival. Now, with cash assistance from a Relief International program working to reduce child labor and improve livelihoods,
Tariq no longer has to work, and Eyad is taking vocational training classes to help him find sustainable work opportunities.
Eyad fled Syria with his family in 2013, looking to escape the insecurity and danger of the armed conflict that is now in its 11th year. Both Eyad and his wife have university degrees, but they have not been able to find stable work.
Unfortunately, Eyad’s story is not unique. In addition to the already considerable challenges facing Syrian refugees, Lebanon’s economic downturn in 2019 has caused steep inflation in the country and the Covid-19 pandemic has placed further challenges on families struggling to make ends meet. A 2020 UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) report estimated that nine out of 10 Syrian families are now living in extreme poverty – and this is driving up the rate of child labor.
“When I first came to Lebanon, I was able to find a job as a teacher in a school that taught Syrian children. When the school downsized, I found work in an accounting firm. But then the Covid-19 pandemic caused the firm to close and I found myself again without income,” says Eyad.
Without work, the family fell into a desperate financial situation. Eyad and his family ended up living in a dilapidated building and he could no longer ensure his children could attend school. Eventually, a coffee shop in the area agreed to hire Tariq, not willing to hire and pay an adult for the job. This job provided some small financial relief for the family, but Eyad couldn’t help but lose hope seeing his child forced to work and his family suffering as they were.
“I could not protect my family either from working or from living in a house that could collapse at any time. And I never wanted to see my child working, I tried to work in the coffee shop instead, but the employer refused.”
Eventually, Eyad was offered support through a Relief International program aimed at reducing child labor and providing livelihood solutions for Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese communities, and his son could stop working and enroll in an education program. Eyad is studying too, taking vocational training courses to support him to transition to long-term employment.
Through a two-pronged approach, the program addresses the economic vulnerabilities that are driving children into the workforce while working to change the environment that enables child labor. By providing the equivalent of 100 USD cash assistance to struggling families and supporting parents with training and mentorship to help them secure work, the program supports their immediate needs while working with municipalities to address the larger problem of child labor in the area.
“I’m starting to hope again,” says Eyad. “I really believe now that I can start working, generate income, protect my family, and never allow my children to work.
“Education is the most important thing to me. It’s a whole life and has new opportunities. And I was afraid that my son would not have this opportunity due to the circumstances. But now, he is back to school in formal education and that gives me joy.”
Supported by The European Regional Development and Protection Programme for Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq (RDPP II) is a joint European initiative running until 2021. The Programme is supported by the Czech Republic, Denmark, the European Union, Ireland and Switzerland.