'Schools aren’t meant for people like us. We need to work to survive.'

Inside this tiny makeshift tent in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, Souad, the single mother of nine, can hardly believe that this will mark their third year away from home. Her husband died in Syria, leaving her alone with the children in Lebanon. Struggling to make ends meet, she still remembers the day when she first asked her 13-year-old daughter, Kamia, to join her in the field.

Working an average of nine hours per day, 36-year-old Souad knew it was taking a toll on her and her daughter’s well-being, but she had no other choice. “I told Kamia, [but] ‘we are poor. If we don’t work, we don’t eat’,” she says. 

Souad used all their income to buy bread, milk and vegetables but still, that wasn’t enough. She took out a loan from the supermarket. When winter came, and the freezing temperatures coupled with severe snowstorms in the Bekaa made life unbearable for the family, Souad once again had to ask the neighbours for money to buy wood.

Although she is trying to stay positive, it’s been very difficult. “When my children were ill and I tried to borrow money from my co-worker, he would say, ‘we are both humans; why is it that you are in need of money constantly and I’m not?’ At every opportunity, he’d remind me that ‘Syrians are nothing,’” adds Souad. “His comments made me feel so small, but what can I do? I’ve got to push through for the kids.”

Between August 2015 to February 2016, the family received USD 174 from Global Affairs Canada (GAC) implemented by World Vision. The cash was subsequently renewed for an additional three months until May 2016 as Souad’s family was deemed to be “highly vulnerable”. 

“I was so happy as if I was higher and being lifted out of my trouble,” she says. “I can still remember that day! My daughter Hiyam was pregnant at the time and needed to visit the hospital. She had no money so they sent her home. That’s when we got the text - we were thrilled to be able to take her back to the hospital without having to borrow again.”

Since receiving the USD 174 per month, Souad has also managed to pay off her bread debt of USD 66 (100,000 LBP), bought a fridge, put meat on the table and even bought new clothes for two of her children each month - things which she was never able to do before.

Unfortunately, in two weeks’ time (May 2016), GAC grant will come to an end. This time, an extension isn’t available anymore.

“After this month, maybe my children and I will die...we are completely reliant on [the cash assistance] at the moment,” she cries. “I don’t want to go back to before - where I had no winter clothes and was unable to buy anything. Five of my children have just started attending schools and I’m worried about the transportation costs. We are better with assistance - I don’t want the assistance to stop.”  

Although Souad is devastated by the news, she is still trying to stay strong and put on a brave front for the rest of her family. “Today, I sent [12 years old] Ahmed and [10 years old] Mahmoud to search for work,” says Souad.

The room is silent as Souad cries. “They’re a piece of my heart but we are obliged to work to survive. I don’t know what work they will get but even the kids can tell I’m sad,” continues Souad. Mahmoud was crying this morning because he wanted to go to school and not work. I told him, ‘schools aren’t meant for people like us. We need to work to survive.’"

Sitting quietly in a corner is 19-year-old Ola, who’s injured her back working. “I felt so happy to see my sisters and brothers wearing new clothes. My mother was happy too. When my brother had an allergic reaction in his eye and needed treatment, we weren’t able to afford the full treatment but at least we were able to provide some medicine to alleviate his pain. Now, I don’t know,” says Ola. “The last time I was in school was when I was 13. I feel really bad and am filled with regret that I’m not educated. If I was educated, I would like to be a teacher so that I could teach others.” 

Silence once again fills the room. The only sound we can hear is the babies crying outside the tent from a far distance. The GAC funding assisted the 630 highly vulnerable Syrian refugee households like Souad’s. Moving forward, however, it’s clear that the family will struggle to survive.