E-Vouchers For Syrian Refugees Are A Game-Changer

In Lebanon, e-vouchers are enabling Syrian refugees to purchase food at local shops, one of many points that could be wrapped into a hunger lesson. Copyright: WFP/Dalia Khamissy

Last week, Mashable heralded WFP’s debit cards for Syrian refugees in Lebanon as one of “10 Innovations That Improved The World In 2013.” Here’s why this programme is so important and what you can teach your students about it.

Not long ago, Ali was living in a nice house and had a successful construction company in northern Syria. But times have changed. Now, he and his family are refugees in Lebanon. He is the sole provider for a family of 12, with only his earnings from occasional work as a day laborer. He spent all of his savings in the first month away from home.

But there is some good news for Ali. His family was one of 1,800 to receive WFP debit cards, also called “e-cards” or “e-vouchers.” These are pre-paid credit cards loaded with US$27 per family member each month for use in about 300 shops around Lebanon. WFP, which developed the programme with support from MasterCard, plans to reach 800,000 refugees with these cards in Lebanon by the end of the year.

What makes this programme so innovative, and what important lessons are there for your students?

This programme is innovative because it moves beyond traditional food distributions in ways that make life easier for those receiving assistance and also add value for the community as a whole.

For one, the card allows refugees to buy the food they want, where and when they want it. This helps families save on things like transport costs because they can shop with greater convenience. Because the funds are automatically uploaded, refugees don’t have to wait in line each month to receive their share, as they do at many food distribution points.

Secondly, the voucher programme helps to boost the local economy by driving business to local shops and merchants. In 2013 alone, the e-voucher programme, along with paper vouchers, has injected more than US$90 million into Lebanon’s economy. The programme isn’t just helping the people receiving the assistance—it’s helping build up their communities.

In November, WFP introduced e-vouchers in Jordan with plans to reach all eligible Syrian refugees there by February 2014. The vouchers are accepted in 75 shops around the country, as well as in the refugee camps. Each family’s card is uploaded monthly with US$34 per person.

Share with your students this video to learn more about the e-card programme.

Learn more about how WFP’s cash and voucher programmes, including the e-cards, are assisting people around the world here. Stay updated on WFP’s ongoing operations aiding Syrian refugees by visiting the Syria crisis page.