We have nothing except the e-card
How a red electronic card loaded with cash from USAID is feeding families in Lebanon
Heavy October rain smashed down on the corrugated metal roof and muffled the electronic beep. The tri-tone alert brought news that Ahmad’s family had been hoping for.
“It was a Thursday morning and it was cold, really cold,” explained Ahmad. “I remember the day well because that SMS saved our lives.”
The message from the World Food Programme (WFP) was an invitation to collect a debit card loaded with cash to buy food.
In 2016, Ahmad’s family crossed the Syrian mountains and entered Lebanon with a couple of flimsy plastic bags containing a bundle of belongings and not a lot else. Family friends who fled earlier helped locate a one-room apartment for the family of eight. Lebanese neighbours filled boxes with clothes for the children. A new temporary home had been found, but the kitchen was empty. With no income, no money, nothing of worth and no way to eat beyond begging, Ahmad’s family was desperate for food.
“For weeks all we ate was rice. My children were so hungry, they cried themselves to sleep every night. It was horrific,” he explained when asked about life before the SMS. “Still, we have nothing except the e-card, but at least we can eat.”
The e-card allows families like Ahmad’s to buy the food that they need, when they need it. Each month, every family member with an e-card receives US$27 each for food. That cash can be spent in any of the 500-plus shops vetted by WFP across Lebanon. Currently, those funds come from USAID, the United States Agency for International Development.
Rice is no longer their only food. “We eat pasta, beans, meat, bread, vegetables, enough for at least two meals a day and there are no tears at bedtime now.”
In 2018, USAID provided WFP with US$56 million, enough to keep 345,000 people’s bowls full.
That little red e-card has made a phenomenal difference to Ahmad’s family. WFP staff familiar with the family recalled seeing a physical difference in the months since they received the e-card. In November, the children were lethargic and quiet. Now they are bouncing around, animated and laughing.
Regular food assistance from WFP, provided by donors like USAID is the only way that over 700,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon can survive until it is safe for them to return home.
Read more about WFP’s work in Lebanon.