It is hard for any parent to watch their child struggle, but sometimes circumstances make it impossible to see a way out.
“Ali used to sell corn on the street” says Walaa. “The heat made it difficult to stay out on the street all day… There were many people who took corn from him without paying, and he suffered a lot of abuse.”
“It was hard for me to see my child working like that.”
Ali sold corn to help make ends meet because his family had no other income at that time. “My husband is sick and it [Ali working] was the only option we had in order for us to survive,” says Walaa.
Walaa’s family are not alone in their experience. They are one of thousands of families struggling to get by in Lebanon.
“82% of Lebanon's population now live below the poverty line,” says Sandra Nakhle, RI’s Country Director in Lebanon.
“Lebanon is three years into one of the worst economic and financial crises in the world,” says Sandra.
Everyday essentials are becoming increasingly expensive because of unchecked inflation. Power cuts are becoming a regular occurrence across the country, and to make matters worse, key imports are being restricted as a direct result of the war in Ukraine.
“There has been a collapse in basic services… You can go to the health center but can’t get the service you need due to electricity cuts or shortages in medical supplies and consumables,” explains Sandra.
In this context, RI’s New Beginnings project is a much-needed lifeline to families like Walaa’s who are facing crisis.
“The aim of the project is to reduce child labor among both Lebanese and Syrian households in the north of Lebanon” says Hala Obeid, an RI Program Coordinator working on the project.
Working alongside local authorities and another NGO, RI has developed a two-pronged approach to helping these families; providing psycho-social and educational support to the children to aid their re-integration into the classroom, while simultaneously providing training to the parents so that they can find employment opportunities they can use to support their families.
For Walaa the project provided an opportunity to take training courses on how to make Arabic sweets, and how to create and run her own business.
Putting this training into practice, Walaa now runs a successful business from home, and Ali is back in school learning.
“We are not only targeting one aspect of the problem… we are working with the entire family to address the whole problem in order to make the intervention more sustainable,” says Hala.
Unfortunately, the economic crisis in Lebanon has not just impacted the families taking part in the project, it also impacts the project itself.
“Inflation and the devaluation of the Lebanese Lira has meant we are often struggling with our budgets because there is a lot of change, and it is hard to plan ahead,” says Sandra.
The crisis also affects RI staff.
Just like the communities they work with, staff members are suffering from the effects of the crisis first-hand.
“Like everyone in Lebanon, staff member’s families cannot access their savings at the bank,” says Sandra. “At times, some staff members have had to wait in line for 4 or 5 hours for fuel to come to work.”
Despite these ongoing challenges, RI staff have continued to push forward with their work supporting families in the community.
It is this dedication that has helped make the New Beginnings project a success.
“I was able to learn a new set of skills including time management, costing, pricing, and how to mass produce food,” says Walaa.
“I work from home now and have several customers including family and neighbors. Even people I don’t know place orders from word-of-mouth recommendations.”
Meanwhile Ali is thriving back in the classroom.
“Ali is very happy at school and is really content because he feels like he is accomplishing something,” says Walaa. “He loves Arabic and Life Sciences, and wants to become an engineer.”
Seeing families like Walaa and Ali’s succeed in the face of extraordinary circumstances makes all the work worthwhile for RI’s staff.
“I love contributing positively to the lives of the people we serve,” adds Sandra.
“To see these children growing, learning new things and having dreams is good. It’s great that they can have dreams just like any other kid,” says Hala.
Meanwhile, for Walaa, this is just the beginning.
“My life has taken a 180-degree turn. It has given me a new outlook on life,” she says with excitement. “In the future, I plan to expand my business by learning how to make western sweets.”
“I am so proud of myself and my son, and the things we have been able to achieve.”
<*Name changed to protect identity>
Relief International in Lebanon
In 2021, RI provided over 78,000 health consultations, and trained over 92,000 people on disease prevention and healthy practices in Lebanon.