They arrived at the soccer field on the outskirts of Beirut in the early morning with millions of questions. The reason? The distribution of a single ATM card — the LOUISE common card — that would help them access all cash-based aid programs for which they are eligible. "I didn't close an eye all night. I wasn't sure what to expect," says Fodda, a Syrian refugee and mother of three. "But now I'm more confident and relaxed."
The multipurpose cash assistance program aims to assist the most socioeconomically vulnerable households in meeting their basic needs by allowing households to determine their own needs and purchases. "Now I can buy whatever I need. I can manage my monthly expenses and distribute the cash assistance between food, school transportation, buying detergent and some warm clothes for my kids," says Shiraz, a Syrian refugee who has four children. After Shiraz picked up her LOUISE common card from the distribution site in Khaldeh on a cold winter morning, she let her son, pictured above, hold the card for a moment.
The LOUISE common card is the cornerstone of the Lebanon One Unified Inter-Organizational System for E-cards (LOUISE), a system that uses a single financial service provider, one information management portal and call center, and a joint targeting approach informed by the common vulnerability assessment (VASyR). Above, Iman and her daughter with their newly issued LOUISE common card.
"The main challenge we've faced with beneficiaries is to explain the different types of assistance available with the card," says Ali Cherro (above, right), Field Officer at UNICEF partner PU-AMI (Première Urgence - Aide Médicale Internationale). As an ATM card distribution partner, Cherro shows cardholders how to obtain their PIN numbers and how to use the LOUISE common card at ATMs and shops. "I try to answer the most frequently asked questions of beneficiaries and address the main problems they have faced when using the LOUISE common card," says Cherro.
Ahmad, above with his family, already knew what he planned to do with his LOUISE common card. "I am happy now to be able to cover the school transportation of my daughter," he says. "It is a small amount, but it helps a lot. Every dollar counts."
The amount of cash assistance and enrollment in the various programs available depends on each household's specific socioeconomic situation. It is a humanitarian safety net for families. Researchers have found that cash transfer programs are one of the most efficient and effective ways to support families in emergencies, and that families spend the money wisely. Above, a Syrian mother and child receive their LOUISE common card in Khaldeh in December 2017.
Above, families wait to have their data verified before being issued a LOUISE common card. The card was introduced in late 2016 when UNICEF, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Food Program (WFP) and the Lebanon Cash Consortium came together to create the unified multipurpose system for the distribution of cash-based assistance to vulnerable populations in Lebanon.
Food assistance delivered by WFP through the LOUISE common card makes up the largest proportion of assistance to Syrian refugees through the LOUISE program. Assisted households receive US$27 per person per month, which can be used to purchase food from any of the more than 500 WFP contracted shops throughout Lebanon. Cash loaded onto the common card can be withdrawn at any ATM in Lebanon.
Above, Jaziya, a Syrian refugee, and her children in Khaldeh in December 2017. During the winter season, additional assistance is provided by UNHCR to the most vulnerable households to cover the expenses of fuel, blankets, tarpaulin repair and winter clothes for children. Since the onset of the conflict in Syria in 2011, more than 5.3 million people, including 2.5 million children, have been living as registered refugees in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.
All photos by Stephen Gerard Kelly for UNICEF Lebanon.