Wafaa, 41, is very pale but she keeps smiling. This woman who is raising three children aged 7, 5 and 1 year old on her own is doing her best. She lives in a room without a kitchen, in the entrance of a building in al-Zahirié neighborhood of Tripoli. Yesterday, for the tenth consecutive night, it was too cold.
Wafaa has no heater nor electricity. She does not have a woolen carpet but a simple thick sheet that she puts on the floor. She sleeps with her three children on a thin sponge mattress on the floor. And the family has only one single blanket.
“The children sleep with their coats on. For us, heating is an inaccessible luxury. I can barely make ends meet to feed them twice a day. I haven’t given them breakfast for months. Often, they eat a loaf of bread sprinkled with thyme to fill their tummies a bit; and because I have nothing else to offer them,” she says. In the tiny room where she lives the humidity pierces the bones.
Wafaa was a cashier in a supermarket. Married to a violent man, she lost her job long before leaving the marital home to save her life and that of her children.
“I decided to fight alone and I know the price is too high to pay. My two eldest go to school, I want them to make a living for themselves, have a good life, and a future. When the weather is nice, I take them to the park so that they forget where we live. Not today, it’s too cold,” she says. In the past 48 hours, the temperature felt on the Lebanese coast was 6 degrees and was dropping overnight.
To be able to pay for the tiny room where she lives and to ensure the milk for her youngest son, even if she gives it to him sparingly, Wafa cleans, irons, and helps the inhabitants of the building where she lives with their housework.
Ali is 47 years old. He is a father of five aged between 17 and 3 years old. The two eldest work to support the family, the eldest aged 17 is a delivery boy for a nearby grocer and the second, aged 14, is a vendor at the flea market in Tripoli.
“Yesterday it was raining heavily, so there was barely any work. My children couldn’t bring any bread home, their brothers and sisters slept without dinner. We haven’t eaten breakfast for months. Today my children are eating raw potatoes. As for the gas cylinder for cooking, I sold it two months ago to bring medicine to my wife, “he says, while his three children aged 11, 7 and 3 bite into slices of raw potatoes.
Ali was not always poor. He was a mechanic in a large factory in the suburbs of Beirut. Then, he fell seriously ill and lost his job. He tried to make small trades, but to no avail. He is still unwell and urgently needs medication and medical tests that he cannot afford. His two eldest, who were in a private school, started working to feed the family. A little less than a year ago, he was evicted from his home and all his furniture was taken by the landlady because he could no longer pay his rent. Today, he lives in a house, with almost no furniture, and ravaged by humidity. “My brother lent me this apartment but I have to give it back to him soon so that his son can move in,” he explains.
Ali lives without running water and with two hours of electricity a day provided by a generator cable lent by a neighbor.
The family has no means of heating and no carpets. To be able to keep warm, the 5 children and their parents share four blankets.
Also in Tripoli, in another neighborhood, 37-year-old Mahmoud lives with his wife, three children, his 24-year-old brother Ahmed, his 28-year-old divorced sister and his elderly mother. He has always been a taxi driver, but a little less than a year ago, the police confiscated his car because it runs on oil. He needs 8 million Lebanese Liras (about 350 USD) to be able to recover it; a sum he does not have. Ahmed, his brother, worked for a baker, but with the devaluation of the currency, his salary was no longer worth anything. He preferred to resign and started collecting tins that he resells. “I make about 25,000 Lebanese Liras (about 1 USD) per kilogram of tin. It takes me about a week to collect them,” he says, standing up to show his pants that had become too big. “I have lost more than 20 kilos since the start of the crisis. It’s the stress of course, but also we barely eat,” he explains.
The family was evicted from their home because they could no longer pay the rent two months ago and they moved into a small apartment in Kobbeh. But a week after the move all their possessions were stolen. “We have nothing left, no furniture, no oven, no fridge, no heater, no gas cylinder for cooking. We use a small camping stove, but still, we do need money to refill it,” says Mahmoud.
“The adults in the family eat once a day, the children twice, but their dinner is often bread dipped in tea,” he adds.
Sitting in a broken armchair, Mahmoud’s mother confides: “We lack everything. We don’t even have 30,000 Lebanese Liras (about 1 USD) to buy coal for heating. I’ve seen bad days but they were much better than those.”
Wafa, Ali, Mahmoud and their families are participants in various CARE International in Lebanon emergency programs. Over the past few months, they have received cash, food boxes, hygiene kits and/or vouchers to purchase food from grocery stores.