What can a donation of $503 buy?

As part of our series reporting from Lebanon, we follow your donations from Dubai to the refugee camp doorstep 

A ‘newcomers kit’ for a family of refugees

Sitting on a thin foam mattress on the floor of her new home, Rawda recalls the moment the missiles struck. It was December 2013, and warplanes had been circling the airspace above the village of Al-Zarah, west of Homs, for hours. Shortly after midnight they rained their ordnance down on the village, killing Rawda’s husband and badly injuring two of her young children.

Today, Rawda and her seven sons and daughters live in a single room in a UNHCR-supported shelter in Khirbet Daoud in northern Lebanon. The two-storey buildings are grey and ugly, squat concrete blocks more suited to cattle than human habitation.

Yet they offer a measure of protection from the heat of summer and bitter cold of winter, and for that Rawda and her children are grateful.

They arrived in Lebanon in late February this year. As with all families given shelter by the UNHCR and its partners – in this instance the Danish Refugee Council – they were provided with a simple ‘newcomers kit’ containing non-food items (mattresses, blankets, hygiene kits, and kitchen sets), dignity kits for women, and a small collection of basic foodstuffs. As they arrived in winter, they also received winterisation assistance: fuel and a stove with which to cook and stave off the cold. Finally they received an electronic card to buy supplies, which the UNHCR and its partners top up each month.

“Today the WFP provides food vouchers to 73 per cent of the refugee population, a section of the population we consider to be the most vulnerable, and who could not survive without these vouchers,” says Ninette Kelley at UNHCR.

The agency is also extending the cards to certain core relief items, which gives some automony to the refugees and injects money into the frail Lebanese economy more quickly. Without their cash card, Rawda’s family would have little chance of survival, yet with an allowance of just $180 a month, the family is not yet food-secure.

“My priorities are to buy frozen fish, bread, milk, rice, cheese and mushrooms,” she says. “However I am short [of money] at the end of every month, and so I borrow from people and repay them whenever I can.”

As well as basic foodstuffs, Rawda dreams of an operation to remove the shrapnel from her 14-year-old son’s leg, or a replacement joint for the grotesquely scarred shoulder of her 10-year-old daughter. Most of all, she yearns for a home “somewhere safe and stable… where the children can go to school and study”.

“I hope,” she says, “but I do not expect.”