A substantial body of evidence shows that giving vulnerable people money instead of in kind assistance allows them to meet a variety of...
A Pair of Sneakers and a Smile
A Pair of Sneakers and a Smile
Early on a warm Thursday morning in May, my colleague Rouwaida and I drove from Beirut to CARE’s office in Mount Lebanon. Two months ago, Syrian refugees and CARE staff ran the Dead Sea to Red Sea marathon in Jordan and raised more than $25,000. Using a portion of that money, we were able to distribute vouchers for clothes to families with children living in a collective shelter called “Silver Star,” Ketermaya and Dalhoun informal tented settlement. “Silver Star,” a former school, is home to 35 refugee families from Syria. Each of the 267 children there received a voucher to buy clothes for 50,000 Lebanese pounds (approximately $33) in a local store in Chhim. One of the mothers told me, "This makes us so happy, especially because we can choose for ourselves what we want to buy. Our children had already forgotten what this means.”
The children were running around in the shop, picking clothes from the shelves. They were smiling as if it was "Eid." "Eid" is for Muslims what Christmas is to Christians. Traditionally, families buy "Eid clothes" for their children to wear during the three days of the holiday. I myself remember quite clearly how happy the new "Eid clothes" used to make my siblings and me. The parents on that Thursday morning in Mount Lebanon felt the same way. For months, and often years, they had not been able to buy nice new clothes since they became refugees. Their faces were filled with joy while their children were trying on the clothes.
Out of all the children, a 13-year-old boy named Fadi caught my attention. His hair was shaved, and he was wearing a marine blue hoodie and jeans. He had an enormous smile on his face, but there was something in his eyes, a mix of sorrow and happiness. He came towards me and showed me his new pair of jeans, shirts, flip-flops and socks. He asked me, "Miss, what do you think about my new clothes? Are they nice or should I pick something else?” I told him that he had a marvelous taste in fashion. After he paid for his new set of clothes, Fadi told me about his young life. He told me that he fled Syria three years ago when the war started. “Silver Star” has become his new home, where he lives together with his parents and younger brother. But his three sisters remain in Syria with relatives – they have not been able to join them in Lebanon. When Fadi fled, he was nine years old. He says that he misses his sisters and his home, but the memory of his home country is fading. His everyday reality has taken over his life now- there is no time to remember. Every day he works from 5 o’clock in the morning until 4 o’clock in the afternoon. He has traded school with a job in a bakery where he earns around $33 every month – the same amount of money that he has just spent on clothes. “My parents are old and sick; they cannot work. If I didn’t work, we would not be able to survive,” Fadi says. Usually he cannot spend the money on himself. I am torn by Fadi’s strength, his big smile and the sorrow in his eyes. When I ask Fadi about his wishes for the future, it becomes all too clear that his smile is the result of years of practice. "I wish I could die, because I am tired of this life, there is nothing positive or joyful in living like this. When I was in Syria, my friends and I used to fantasize about how life would be when we grew up becoming teenage boys and men. Nowadays I sit by myself laughing about how I could have even dreamt about those things."
I tried to explain to him that hopefully when the situation gets better he will be able to return home. With sad, almost apologetic eyes, he told me, "There is no hope for me that Syria will be better, there is nothing promising about it. I can't imagine the situation in Syria will calm down and become good again in order for us to return to our old lives.” Bilal, the store owner’s son, overheard the conversation and offered to give him the sneakers he’d had to return for free if only he would smile again! He did, but for how much longer? How can we motivate boys like Fadi to see the good things in life if it becomes more difficult with every day? What do you tell a little boy who is treated so harshly by life that he wishes to die? How many children like Fadi are out there? And what about all the children who are still in Syria, surrounded by constant fighting and conflict, waking up and falling asleep to the sound of gunshots and bombs? A whole generation is being deprived of their innocence - a lost generation losing all their hopes, dreams and joy in life. I wish I could always make them smile and bring the joy to their hearts that their smiles have brought to mine.