Orphanages in Lebanon are on the brink: Children at risk of hunger, lack of education

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Lebanon’s economic crisis continues to worsen, and as many struggle to get by, orphanages and foster homes are receiving fewer donations, putting nearly 11,000 children at risk.

The children at these orphanages and shelters are becoming increasingly aware of the dire economic situation and are worried about whether or not they will continue to have food, an education or even a place to live as conditions in the country worsen.

The crisis – the worst to hit the country since the 15-year civil war that ended in 1990 – has seen the value of the Lebanese lira sharply devalue, fluctuating between 7,500 and 10,000 to the US dollar, compared to the official pegged rate of 1,507 to $1. Prices of many products have doubled, and in some cases tripled.

Lebanon’s Dar al-Aytam al-Islamiya (Islamic Orphanage) runs 54 centers throughout the country that provide shelter for orphans, run programs for the disabled and poor, and offer vocational trainings.

The Islamic Orphanage primarily received its funding from the community, along with support from the government. However, their funding has drastically decreased as traditional donors are now themselves struggling to get by, and the money they receive from the government comes later and later. Annually, the Islamic Orphanage receives around 132 million Lebanese lira ($88,000 at the official rate) from the government.

“Everyone still wants to help and we saw this happening on TV after the pandemic first happened with people rushing to donate,” Dania Safadieh, the division director for the Islamic Orphanage, told Al Arabiya English. “Today, everyone still wants to help, but they are all affected by the [economic] crisis. The people that usually donate might now need donations themselves. This is where we are affected the most.”

Previously, donors provided organizations like Home of Hope, a foster home, with food, money and, on occasion, outings for the children.

A computer lab at an orphanage in Lebanon. (Credit: Islamic Orphanage.)
A computer lab at an orphanage in Lebanon. (Credit: Islamic Orphanage.)

“Some of the donors provide food,” Yasmin Kerbej, a social worker at Hope of Hope, told Al Arabiya English. “Some provided activities for the children such as a camp, a trip to have fun. Some of them pay money so we can pay for the needs of our children because they have many needs. For example, some of the cleaning supplies that we need for the shelter.”

But goods, including food, have become increasingly hard to acquire. According to Kerbej, they have only been able to purchase a fraction of what they were able to buy previously.

“Now food is so expensive,” Kerbej stated, “and the budget that we had previously for food, if we had, for example, 500,000 Lebanese lira ($333), now it will buy us a quarter of the amount we used to buy before.”

One of Home of Hope’s main donors is the Lebanese Evangelical Society, but, with the economic crisis and subsequent diminished donations, the shelter is struggling financially. Kerbej expressed concern about what might happen if foster shelters are forced to close.

Nowhere to go

“Other associations are not taking children,” she stressed, “So, if any association closes, it is hard to find another one to take them, and the government is not taking into consideration the harm that is going to happen if any shelter closes.”

Because of the decreased funding, orphanages and foster homes have to focus on acquiring the necessities to continue to provide the best care possible for the children that they look after.

According to Kerbej, Home of Hope no longer buys meat due to its drastic increase in price from 20,000 lira ($14) to around 80,000 lira per kilogram ($54).

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It’s not just food though that’s become hard to purchase – maintaining the facilities has also become a challenge. Now, it is costing organizations significantly more to take care of one child than it did just a few months ago, only adding more strain on the already struggling institutions.

“When it comes to maintenance, our centers are quite large,” Safadieh explained, “All of the maintenance services became more expensive. The cost of one child became equal to the cost of ten and your resources are still the same. These services were more affected than the others because for them to continue, you need electricity, fuel, in order to operate the generators and pay salaries for the workers.”

Lebanon suffers from chronic electricity shortages, and where state-provided power fails, generators make up the gap. But lately, even generators have failed to provide adequate power for those in Lebanon.

Read more: Watch: Lebanese left in dark without power amid deepening economic crisis

On top of the amount of aid decreasing, many programs were abruptly ended in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This has put the children’s education at risk. Prior to the crisis, Home of Hope had five or six teachers, the majority of which came from NGOs.

However, now they only have two and are unable to pay for more.

“Our children need more,” Kerbej said. “Because most of them are 12, 13, 14 and they don’t know how to calculate or how to read or write, either in Arabic or English.”

Fears rising

With the worsening situation, the children are worried what will happen to them. To alleviate their fears, organizations have tried to comfort them that they will be taken care of and that their needs will be met.

“We tried to make them feel safe,” Kerbej explained, “‘Yes, we are facing many problems, but don’t worry because we are going to provide you with your needs. Maybe we’ll have some changes. The priority is for the food and your safety. Maybe we’ll have less activities outside.’ Now, they have started asking if we will still be able to provide them will food. This affects them in a very harsh way because there is no stability.”

At the Islamic Orphanage, the staff made similar efforts to explain the situation but tried to take a more positive approach to try to keep the children from worrying.

“The work that happens in Dar al-Aytam isn’t about pitying them,” Safadieh explained, “but increasing the positivity in morale. We try our best to show the kids that life will go on and that they will be happy and that all of this will pass and they will be able to get back to their lives.”

However, with there being no end to the economic crisis in sight, both Home of Hope and the Islamic Orphanage are working on long-term solutions that would allow them to continue their work. For Home of Hope, this means submitting proposals to NGOs.

“We are waiting for any response from the NGOs that we spoke with previously,” Kerbej stated. “Hopefully we will get some donations.”

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According to Safadieh, the Islamic Orphanage is working on an emergency plan in the event that donations continue to dwindle and the crisis continues.

“Right now we don’t know exactly what we are going to do,” she explained. “We are creating this plan to the greatest extent that we can in order to maintain the services despite these situations. The plan works on two parts: The first is looking for new resources and the second is to minimize the expenses as much as possible. The goal is to be able to continue our work regardless of the economic situation.”

While the Islamic Orphanage does not normally work with NGOs or international organizations, Safadieh said that they would be open to it if the organization was in line with the secular beliefs of the orphanage.

While the future remains uncertain, the Islamic Orphanage remains hopeful that they will continue to find people willing to help their cause, and they insist their doors will not close – no matter how bad things might get.

Despite their best efforts, all that can be done now is to continue their work as best they can and wait to see what happens next.

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