Syrian refugee Um Tuqa and her daughter rely on UNHCR’s cash assistance to make ends meet. But Um Tuqa’s dedication, resilience and a mobile wallet are the key ingredients in making her cooking project a success and providing for her family.
Mona Al Shbeeb, a 40-year-old Syrian woman, is a proud mother of 14-year-old Tuqa, living in Amman. She is known as Um Tuqa in her close circles. Um Tuqa and her daughter were living in Damascus, Syria, when a chemical shelling severely injured Tuqa in 2015, and mother and daughter fled to Jordan to seek medical treatment.
She struggled to stand on her own two feet for the first years they were in Jordan. But as soon as she was able to, she started seeking occasional work opportunities to cover some of her family’s needs. With no family support, and a daughter with severe medical needs, having a regular stable income proved difficult, and so in 2019, she applied for and started receiving monthly cash assistance from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
Um Tuqa is one of more than 120,000 refugees across host communities in Jordan who receive cash assistance thanks to the continued support of the European Union and other donors. This cash serves as a basic support mechanism for the most vulnerable refugee families and helps them meet their most basic needs, such as paying rent or putting food on the table or covering medical expenses as for Um Tuqa’s daughter. Most beneficiaries receive it via mobile wallets which unlock additional business opportunities for refugees.
For Um Tuqa, using a mobile wallet also means cash at hand through her small business. Trained as a beauty artist, she was working in a hair salon in Syria. In Jordan, she slowly found relief in cooking. It became a project and a means to make a small income, through preparing and selling to friends and neighbours, which she aspires to formalise into a proper business called “Shu Zaki”, meaning how delicious in Arabic. “I chose cooking because this is what we learned from our parents,” she says, bringing memories to her mind. “I made a connection between the Syrian, Jordanian and Palestinian cuisines. I mix them, and I come up with new dishes,” she explains the personal touch she brings to her food.
“The mobile wallet made my life so much easier because I didn’t have to go anywhere to pay my bills.”
Along with over 60 per cent of the refugee families that received UNHCR’s cash assistance, Um Tuqa uses a mobile wallet. She signed up from the very beginning, and attended awareness and training sessions, which UNHCR has been organising with partners to familiarise refugees with the new tool. “Mobile wallets not only help refugees to meet their most basic needs in present, but also unlock tremendous opportunities for greater self-reliance in the future,” says UNHCR’s cash team leader Mette Karlsen. “It helps them to manage their finances and diversify their incomes through business creation”.
Um Tuqa is a fan of mobile wallets and has been using hers not only for receiving the cash assistance, but also for making payments. “It made my life so much easier because I didn’t have to go anywhere to pay my bills,” she says, “I pay water, electricity and phone bills while sitting on my couch.” She also uses it to receive advance payments from her few clients for the food she produces. “My rights [as a vendor] are preserved,” she explains. This is an improvement of her financial situation as she had faced losses in the past when clients would cancel their orders last minute after she had prepared the food.
“I’m determined to finish what I started. I want to create something that has never been done before.”
Her daughter’s condition and medical needs prevent Um Tuqa from having big dreams about the future. But her enthusiasm and drive to grow her culinary project, along with her dedication to securing a future for Tuqa (she needs medical treatment and a liver transplant) motivate her to keep going. “I’m determined to finish what I started, I want to add my own touch and create something that has never been done before.”
Read more about UNHCR’s transition to mobile wallets as a modality for cash assistance here.
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