5 min read

Starving for Survival

June 20, 2023
by Medair
Households in Baalbek/Hermel are facing the risk of eviction following the inability to pay an increase in rental fees.

“Sometimes when sleeping we can hear each other’s stomach rumble from hunger, but we choose to ignore it” says Safwan.

Since 2019, Lebanon continues to sink into one of the world’s worst financial crises. The depreciation of the Lebanese Pound (LBP), which lost 96 percent of its value since 2019, and inflation surging to 249 percent with an increase in the price of the basic food basket, and subsidies cuts on basic items such as food, medications, and fuel, have severely declined people’s purchasing power. With the compounding crisis still ongoing, an increasing number of households are at risk of eviction – especially People with Specific Needs (PwSN) and Female heads of Households.

A Syrian child with down syndrome is embraced by his father while sitting on a chair
Safwan, 40 years old, a Syrian community member sits next to his son Mohamad, 9 years old, a person with down syndrome, in their living room in their home in Haouch Er Rafqa, Baalbek district, Baalbek-Hermel governate on the 6th of December 2022. ©Medair/Abdul Dennaoui

Safwan, 40 years old, is a Syrian community member living in Houch Er Rafqa, in the Baalbek/ Hermel district. Safwan lives with his wife and two children, both with a condition of down syndrome, and they now face a daily battle for survival. Unable to find employment and the constant piling of debts collected for basic items such as food and medication, the family can no longer afford to pay rent, or even seek health care for their children’s condition. Medair’s Cash for Rent (CfR) project, funded by the Lebanon Humanitarian Fund (LHF), seeks to assist the most vulnerable members of the community. Safwan spoke to us about the hardships and struggles he faces with his family under these challenging circumstances and how crucial it was for him to receive cash support.

While embracing his youngest, nine-year-old Mohamad, Safwan shares his story, “We fled Syria seven years ago because of the conflict and we came to Lebanon with the hopes of starting a new life. When we arrived in Lebanon, life was better than it was back home. As you can see, God has blessed me with two beautiful sons – both have down syndrome condition. This may mean something different to the world, but to me, this means that they are extra special and require a bit more attention, so we’ve always had to be more careful with them.”

Silence fills the room, while everyone contemplates the reality of the situation. Safwan, holding his breath continues, “With our current situation, we are only able to eat about a meal a day – and I am not referring to a hot meal. A usual meal in our household now is some pita bread with zaatar (a culinary herb) with some labneh (a tangy yogurt cheese), which is the bare minimum of what we can afford. My wife and I will sit by candlelight after the boys are asleep and have our meal. Sometimes when sleeping we can hear each other’s stomach rumble from hunger, but we choose to ignore it. Our own personal nutrition or health doesn’t matter anymore. Our kids, my boys, are everything to us. I will starve myself, for their survival.”

A Syrian child with down syndrome is embraced by his father while sitting on a chair.
Mohamad, 9 years old, Safwan’s youngest son, sits next to his father in their living room in their home in Haouch Er Rafqa , Baalbek district, Baalbek-Hermel governate on the 6th of December 2022. ©Medair/Abdul Dennaoui

I cannot count the times my arms were open wide and pointed up at the sky begging God for a way out, or to send help of any kind. My prayers were eventually answered, and I am very grateful that there are organizations that came to our aid. At the brink of eviction and having our rent paid has lifted a significant weight off our shoulders. It gave us some room to breathe. We were able to focus on providing my boys with their medications. We are aware that this is not permanent, as we continue facing hardships, but most importantly it kept a roof over our heads. I don’t have the words to describe how thankful I am. I cannot imagine my family and me on the streets with nowhere to go.”

In recent years, cash assistance has been recognized internationally as an effective way of meeting people’s needs, granting them autonomy. Medair has integrated this approach into its programming in multiple countries. In Lebanon, Medair is currently supporting 603 of the most vulnerable households in Baalbek/Hermel with Cash for Rent, funded by the Lebanon Humanitarian Fund. In coordination with the shelter sector, Medair is supporting 225 vulnerable households with Cash for Rent in the affected communities of Baalbek/ Hermel. Cash initiatives can stimulate the local economy, giving people the opportunity to recover and focus on their families.

Medair’s Cash for Rent (CfR) services in Baalbek -Hermel are funded by the Lebanon Humanitarian Fund (LHF) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.
June 20, 2023
by Medair
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