28 December 2020 - Lebanon

Lebanon: “I can barely feed my family”

Lama*, 11, looks out the window of their house which was damaged during the Beirut explosion, Lebanon

Lama*, 11, looks out the window of their house which was damaged during the Beirut explosion, Lebanon

For many families in Lebanon, COVID-19 worsened an already tough economic and social climate. Schools and workplaces were forced to close and families lost their livelihoods.

Then, when the Beirut Port explosion hit in August, many families were pushed further into financial difficulty, struggling to pay for food, repairs and medical bills.

Marie-Helene’s family had been suffering since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. She used to work in a school – which her daughter Lama*, 11, and son Jad*, 14, attended – but with the school closures, she lost her job and the children lost their place at the school. Her husband works as an auto-body technician. He’s paid the minimum wage.

Life became hell

Marie-Helene told us: “Before coronavirus, I used to work in a school as a cleaner and get paid 8,000 Lebanese Pound (around USD$5) per hour. Due to the Coronavirus, schools closed and now I work for four hours and get payed 8,000 Lebanese Pound (5$ USD).

“I’m working temporarily to ensure my children’s survival, because the pay check isn’t enough to sustain us.

“Before coronavirus, we were eating… there wasn’t this price inflation. After coronavirus came the revolution and following that was the explosion. That’s when the situation became intolerable. Life became hell, you know.”

Mum Marie-Helene, Jad*, 14, and Lama*, 11, sit down to a dinner of Taouk chicken, French fries and salad
Mum Marie-Helene, Jad*, 14, and Lama*, 11, sit down to a dinner of Taouk chicken, French fries and salad. Marie-Helene had been struggling to put food on the table.

The explosion

Marie-Helene’s family live in close proximity to the Beirut explosion site. When the blast occurred, they suffered material damage to their house and the children and parents were affected psychologically.

“Until this day, my daughter gets scared,” said Marie-Helene. “If she hears a sound from outside she gets terrified.

“When the explosion happened, my daughter was in the kitchen, drinking water. She closed the refrigerator door and barely crossed the room. I was laying on the couch in the living room, watching TV. All of a sudden, something shoved me to the floor.

“I saw my daughter hitting the ground in the hallway. The refrigerator moved. The hoover machine that’s on the top shelf fell on the ground. My refrigerator stopped working. My washing machine stopped working.

“I can’t afford to buy a refrigerator and a washing machine with my salary. Financially speaking, I’m penniless. I’m working and I still have to take loans so I can buy things like vegetables. Vegetables are expensive now.

“When coronavirus first started we were able to breathe a bit. But after the explosion and currently, things are very hard. Especially now that the Lebanese Pound has lost its value and with the fluctuating USD exchange rate. The situation is extremely difficult. Life is hellish now. I can’t afford to buy meat, you know.

“Everything is absurdly expensive. If you want to go to the supermarket you need to at least carry two to three million LBP (approximately USD$1400) to buy stuff. I can barely feed my family.”

Marie-Helene worries for her children, Lama* and Jad*

“This situation is affecting my children. For example, my daughter would want something and I just can’t afford to buy it for her. My son would want something and I can’t afford to buy it for him. I just can’t.

“My children also stopped going to school. Until this day my children are not in school and there’s a risk they will not get registered.”

Jad*, 14, plays on his phone outside his home in Beirut, Lebanon
Jad*, 14, plays on his phone outside his home in Beirut, Lebanon

How we helped

We provided Marie-Helene’s family with emergency cash assistance to cover their basic needs and help put healthy, nutritious food back on the table.

We also provided psychosocial support for the children, one-to-one sessions with a case worker who visits their home.

“Miss Hanaa [the Save the Children case worker], comes once every week to check on my children, talk to them and educate them,” said Marie-Helene. “My children are beyond happy because of her. If they see Hanaa… it is as if they see a family member, like a cousin.”

Hanaa’s visits give each child a safe outlet to express their feelings by talking, drawing and other activities, with the hope of lessening the psychological impact caused by the coronavirus crisis and the explosion – and to keep their education alive.

Lama*, 11, told us: “I love drawing my doggy, myself, my brother, and to draw nature, like trees.”

Case worker Hanaa discusses a drawing with Lama*, 11, Beirut, Lebanon
Case worker Hanaa discusses a drawing with Lama*, 11, Beirut, Lebanon

Hopes for the future

Marie-Helene has hopes for her children’s futures and that of her country.

“I wish for my children to have better lives than mine… For Lebanon to become a better country and no more of what has happened. I want my children to live in Lebanon with their dignity and respect attached.”

Marie-Helene’s efforts to give her family a better life have not gone unnoticed. Her son Jad*, 14, said “I want to tell my mom that I love her, because I see how she’s always working hard.”

Marie-Helene with daughter Lama*, 11, and son Jad*, 14, outside their home, Beirut, Lebanon
Marie-Helene with daughter Lama*, 11, and son Jad*, 14, outside their home, Beirut, Lebanon

*Names changes to protect identities

Save the Children was already responding to the coronavirus crisis in Lebanon when the explosion happened and immediately started responding to the Beirut blast by supporting families like that of Marie-Helene, her husband, Jad* and Lama*. Read more about our response in Lebanon.

You can help by supporting Save the Children’s Emergency Fund for the world’s most vulnerable children.

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