We all know the feeling of entering someone’s home that you have not met. You are nervous, you don’t know if you should have brought a gift, where you should sit and if you should remove your shoes. Three kisses or two, or maybe none.
Last week, the exact same thing happened to me, except I was entering the home of refugees Huda and Hussein and their children Mahmoud, Farah, and Salwa, in their informal housing in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon.
I took my shoes off as I entered their home, made up of tarp, metal sheets and wood sticks. I sat down on two beautiful rugs, which I later found out were the only two items the family brought when they fled Syria. Their children, initially shy, warmed up immediately, later begging to show us their goats and chickens while telling us about their dreams of becoming football stars. Their father, Hussein, had recently broken his leg and was unable to work. In order to make ends meet, Huda was cleaning nearby houses to support the family.
The family’s worries seemed to be momentarily paused when asked about the cash-assistance they were receiving, an initiative by UNHCR. Hussein proudly brought out an ATM card and began to explain the freedom of choice the $175 monthly stipend provided him and his family as it allowed them to determine themselves what was needed most. However, I quickly realised that 60% of their stipend immediately goes to rent and electricity; leaving 40% for food, education, healthcare and basic necessities.
In Lebanon, UNHCR provides 30,000 vulnerable Syrian refugee families with multi-purpose cash assistance, allowing them to purchase what they truly need. But only 24% of refugee households receive cash-assistance. Agencies on the ground are facing serious funding challenges as what is needed is 4x greater than what is being donated.
But yet the warmth, hospitality and strength we got a glimpse of during our visit was overwhelming, and it is these stories that encourage me that humans are resilient beyond what we believe is capable.
But resilience can only take us so far. Refugees and the vulnerable communities of the host country need dignity, care and the right systems to support their mental and physical well-being. In Lebanon alone, there are over 1 million registered Syrian refugees with UNHCR, of which 70% live in poverty and 50% in extreme poverty.
Our region is the largest contributor and host of refugees globally. Careem’s mission has always been to create sustainable, scalable and enabling mechanisms to solve some of the most basic challenges in our region, and we are proud that our customers, captains and colleagues have so generously included supporting refugees into this mission.
What this visit has taught us, and what we want to raise awareness of, is that the refugee crisis is still very real. We pledge to continue increasing our commitment to support refugees in our region.
A special thank you to UNHCR for hosting us on this powerful mission to the informal settlement in the Bekaa Valley and for constantly supporting the needs of refugees and vulnerable citizens.
Head of Sustainability and Social Impact
 Names have been altered for anonymity