Sawsan*, 48 years old, Lebanon
As Lebanon continues to grapple with the weight of the compounded crises, especially the economic collapse, families across the country struggle on a daily basis to make ends meet. The ongoing economic meltdown has led to dangerously high levels of inflation, job losses, and increased vulnerabilities and protection risks for children and families, especially the most marginalized groups – including high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition.
Though the crisis spared no one, the most vulnerable families in Lebanon, be it from the Lebanese, migrant or refugee communities, are bearing the brunt and their children’s wellbeing and future are held captive. One of these families is Sawsan’s.
In Akkar, northern Lebanon, Sawsan* resides with her husband and 4 children, 3 daughters and 1 son. Over the past year she has been participating in sessions under the Inmaa project, funded by the European Union, so she can one day open her own business to become self-reliant and graduate out of the poverty line.
How is Save the Children helping (or did we help) that child or family:
Sawsan* is currently enrolled in the Inmaa Program, funded by the European Union, and has been since May 2021. During the time of her enrolment, Sawsan* has participated in the program’s trainings, with a focus on entrepreneurship and workshops related to social empowerment, financial literacy, and life skills. Sawsan* has also received cash assistance to help her meet her basic needs.
Interviewee’s story in their own words (Quotes):
“Living in a remote village in Akkar is not ideal for anyone wishing to improve or start a business, no matter how large or small. The economic situation only worsened the odds. I need to calculate every move before I take it, because it’s not only about me and my dreams, but my entire family also depends on me.
As a wife and mother of four, my focus is on my children and husband, and on making sure my children’s needs are met. My husband and I can survive on the bare minimum; it’s my children’s health and education that take precedence. That was always the case, and we managed well, until of course the economic crisis.
Now, we can barely afford buying bread and gas. Winter is around the corner, and we are unable to stock up, nor can we afford wood or diesel for warmth, as electricity is out of the question for us. Our own diets changed drastically over the past year. Meat and chicken are commodities we cannot afford, not when we barely have running water.
My husband is a daily worker, so we depend on that daily income, however during the past few months, he’s had little to no job opportunities. At this rate, I couldn’t sit idle, so I took matters into my own hands, as there is no shame in decent work. I began collecting plastic and metal and recycling the plastic we had at home. I would then sell them. The 100,000 LBP (approximately 5 USD) I would make by end of every week were lifesaving sometimes. Seeing the joy on my child’s young face kept me pushing for more.
I didn’t stop there, whatever work I would find, whatever opportunities I could get my hands on, I would take. I started to have a reputation among my neighbours and friends, and whenever they heard of any opportunities like this, they would contact me or even sign me up! That’s how I found myself registered in the Inmaa project. I want to open my own dairy business and this project is helping me making that dream come true.
To be quite honest, I never thought of dairy products as my go to business plan. During one of these sessions, they asked us what our skills are, and when many of us didn’t answer, they explained that we all have a set of skills, we just need to dig deeper. I realised that my skills were in the dairy and preserved food production. This is something I’ve always done and excelled at, but never once thought to utilise it as a business. That’s when my goal became clear, and I knew what I wanted to do. I want to open my own dairy and preserved food products business.
Once my goal was set, I knew there was much to do, namely ensuring the proper funding and plans that wouldn’t negatively impact my family. We’re already on the threshold of poverty, I didn’t want us to plunge into it.
The financial counselling sessions were essential to me. I needed to understand my finances and expenses and that of my family’s before I embarked on any new initiative.
In my latest sessions, we were able to set a personal development plan on ways forward so I can open my business and ensure its sustainability. One of these steps is to buy solar panels from the money I make selling plastic and metal, so I can have electricity so the refrigerator can operate which is vital to preserve cheese and dairy products as an alternative to the expensive electricity prices.
Since the first day, I had this sense of empowerment. A sense that grew entrenched with every session and discussion. Our earliest sessions were to identify and understand our strengths and weaknesses, and to make use of what we have and how we can enhance them.
I found a community and sense of belonging with like-minded people, regardless of our backgrounds, age, religion, and nationalities.
I know the road ahead is long, but I have faith in myself and in the program, so I know it will be worth it. This is not for me, but for my family, my children. I want my daughters to learn from me, I want to set a good example for them. I want my daughters to understand that we are not as powerless as we might think we are. There is always a way through, and just because our initial plan didn’t work as desired, it doesn’t mean we should give up.”
Background / Project information
The Inmaa consortium entitled “Sustainable Social Protection and Livelihood Solutions for Severely Vulnerable Households in Lebanon” is funded by the European Union and implemented by Save the Children (lead), Plan International, Akkarouna, and the Lebanese Organisation of Studies and Training (LOST). The project targets 1,850 households covering approximately 9,250 beneficiaries, benefiting equally Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees.
The main objective of this project is to ensure that severely vulnerable households in Lebanon are more self-reliant and less dependent on social assistance. Such goal is achieved through 1) Social protection which focuses on the strengthening the ability of severely vulnerable Lebanese and Syrian refugee households to meet their children’s basic needs; 2) Livelihoods promotion which focuses on improving the economic self-reliance of selected households; 3) Financial inclusion which is about increasing the ability of households to manage financial resources, accrue savings, and increase productive assets; and 4) Social empowerment in which adolescent boys and girls, youth and women are empowered to protect themselves and claim their rights.
Interview conducted by: Baraa Shkeir
Interview translated by: Baraa Shkeir
Date of interview: Thursday, November 10th, 2022
Story edited by: Shireen Makarem
Story Approved by: Shireen Makarem, Advocacy and Campaigns Manager & Miya Tajima-Simpson, Policy Advocacy and Communications Director
Country/region of interview: Lebanon
Interview language: Arabic
This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Save the Children and Inmaa Consortium and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.