“No matter the cost, any form of income is desperately needed, and I am willing to go to great lengths to secure every bit,” says Khadija.
The Bekaa Valley is home to a large population of Syrian refugees who have fled their homes in search of safety to escape the ongoing conflict in their home country. With the crisis approaching its thirteenth year, refugees residing in the tented settlements in Lebanon continue to face an extremely harsh reality. The population is struggling with access to the most basic of necessities. They are unable to afford food, rent, electricity, and medication. Amidst a compounding crisis, Lebanon’s current crippling state has become a significant contributing factor to the ongoing challenges faced by the refugee population.
Meet Khadija, 32 years old, a Syrian community member living in a tented home in an overcrowded informal settlement in the Bekaa Valley. Khadija is a brave and determined mother. I met her while on a visit with our survey team; the team was visiting refugee households with the purpose of conducting a survey for the data collection of the Vulnerability Assessment for Syrian Refugees, otherwise known as the VASyR.
What struck me the most about Khadija when I first met her, was her drive, her motherly instinct to protect her children. She spoke so passionately about them. During the survey with the team, Khadija told us a little bit about herself. Gathering whatever belongings she could like millions of others, she escaped the conflict in Syria to a crowded settlement in Lebanon, in search of hope, a new beginning. Khadija’s heart aches for her home, but she knew that she had made the right choice for the sake of her children’s safety. She quickly came to realize however that life in Lebanon was far from easy. Months turned into years, and she did everything she could to ensure her children’s well-being. The conditions were hard even before the crisis in the country. As time passed the country was facing a crippling crisis, and the conditions in the settlement were harsh. About two years, Khadija became pregnant. Despite the hardships and being overjoyed about adding a new addition to her family, this joy quickly turned into despair.
One day, whilst still carrying their child, without a single word, her husband vanished. She was devastated and confused and didn’t understand why her husband had abandoned his family. However, her love for her children gave her the strength to carry on. Days turned into weeks, and there was still no word from her husband. Alone and frightened, she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.
Currently, as a single mother of six, Khadija is struggling to provide for her children, with limited access to necessities. Despite receiving food and financial aid from the international community, Khadija still needs to find additional ad hoc side jobs, put food on the table, and meet essential needs. As the crisis continues to compound, the aid received is insufficient.
“Where do I start? God has blessed me with six precious children. They are my biggest blessing in life. My youngest is two years old, and my eldest is fourteen years old. I am doing all can as a single mother, because I do not want my children to grow up in a broken home. We fled the turmoil in Syria to Lebanon as a family, in search of hope. Most recently, our long fight for hope was disrupted by my husband’s abandonment, leaving me to shoulder the weight of our struggles alone. I was still carrying our child when he ran off to Syria and never came back. Not a single word from him. In the face of a deepening crisis, each day presents a new battle to provide for my children. Unintentionally, I find myself now burdened with a debt of 150 USD, as I needed the cash to cover electricity and necessities, and yet it remains insufficient. The sudden price hikes are setting us way behind. Every five days, my household requires about three bags of flatbread. Every week I require about two bags of potatoes to feed my children. The situation is becoming unbearable, and I am unable to keep up”.
She continues, “In the past, we were able to lean on a neighbor’s or an acquaintance’s shoulder – most people were prepared to help. However, now the situation has completely shifted. Everyone is trying to keep their own heads above water. Even with some support from the international community, I still need to manage another side income. I peel garlic for 25,000 LBP (equivalent to 0.27 USD at the market rate) per kilogram right across from the settlement on an empty plot of land. I laid a large blanket out and spread the garlic all over. I place a bucket to my side, where I can throw the cloves of garlic I peel. The most I’ve been able to peel in a day with some support is ten kilograms, which yields me a total of 250,000 LBP (equivalent to 2.7 USD at the market rate). I am willing to put myself through sitting through the scorching heat of the relentless sun and enduring the overpowering scent of garlic, all in the pursuit of an income. No matter the cost, any form of income is desperately needed, and I am willing to go to great lengths to secure every bit. As a mother of six, I am fueled by unyielding love and my determination to provide my children with a better life and to shield them from the struggles.”
While Khadija was speaking, I could feel as if her heart was heavy with sorrow. She knows she must remain strong for her children as they rely completely on her. Lebanon continues to spiral down with no end to the crisis in sight. The plight of Syrian refugees living in the tented settlement is a harsh reality.
Medair services in The Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, are funded by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and generous private donors.
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 organization.