E-cards are giving Palestine refugees in Jordan the freedom to choose their food according to their individual needs

06 June 2016
Since 26 April 2016, nearly 12,000 e-cards have been distributed to Palestine refugees registered under the Social Safety Net Programme (SSNP) in Jordan. ©2016 UNRWA Photo by Ahmad Abu Haweleh

UNRWA in Jordan commenced the distribution of ‘e-cards’ to families registered under the Social Safety Net Programme (SSNP). The new modality replaces food and cash assistance distributed to beneficiaries and gives the refugees the freedom to choose their food according to their individual needs. The new modality will ensure a more dignified way of providing assistance and an empowering experience.

Since the commencement of the e-card distribution on 26 April 2016, 11,815 cards have been given to families benefiting from the SSNP in Jordan. The last distribution activity was in Irbid camp on Thursday, 11 May 2016.

An UNRWA social worker prepares the e-cards for distribution to the beneficiaries. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Ahmad Abu Haweleh

The Social Safety Net Programme targets the most vulnerable Palestine refugee families, with priority given to those identified as abject poor (living below the food poverty line). It aims at alleviating poverty by providing cash grants and other development interventions to create a positive impact on the beneficiaries’ lives. All family members are eligible for assistance under the SSNP, except for those who are living outside the respective field of operations or are temporarily absent from home (i.e. for military service/prison).  Each family is subject to a complete study that consists of a desk study and field inquiry in order to determine the family’s eligibility for the SSNP.

Roger Davies, Director of UNRWA Operations in Jordan, celebrates the completion of the distribution of e-cards to all beneficiaries with UNRWA staff who participated in the process. In the coming two weeks, Roger will visit the four areas in Jordan to congratulate staff for a job well done. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Dima Ismail

“Part of the smooth transition to the e-cards modality is attributed to well managed communication efforts exerted by staff involved at all levels, which also resulted in almost zero complaint from beneficiaries. The energy, enthusisam and hard work I witnessed from all staff is remarkable,” said Roger Davies, the Director of UNRWA Operations in Jordan. 

Beneficiaries line up in front of the UNRWA office in Irbid camp to collect their e-cards.  © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Ahmad Abu Haweleh

Every quarter, SSNP beneficiaries gathered at the distribution site to get their food and cash distributions from UNRWA. They waited for hours under the hot sun in the summer and in the cold during the winter. Starting in July 2016, they will visit pre-identified supermarkets close to their homes when it is convenient for them and get the food they need. They can also go to Jordan Ahli Bank machines to withdraw the monetary part of the assistance in cash.

Palestine refugee Mohammad al-Zayed collects his family’s e-card in Irbid camp. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Ahmad Abu Haweleh

The shift to the e-card is important for a number of reasons, including the empowerment and dignity of refugees; flexibility and freedom of choice in terms of when and what types of food items they can obtain; supporting the local economy; and cost efficiency. The new assistance modality does not affect the criteria for the selection of SSNP recipients. 

Wisam Ahmad, Relief Services Officer, explains to beneficiaries in Irbid camp the new assistance modality. She gives them information on what the e-cards means, the amounts they are entitled to, where to get their food and cash assistance, and how to follow up with the relief staff in case they have any queries. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Ahmad Abu Haweleh

“The preparation stage took a long time and much effort from relief staff. We faced a lot of challenges in the beginning, which were addressed and dealt with to minimize inconveniences that may be experienced by refugees. Nevertheless, there are still a few challenges ahead of us, such as beneficiaries losing their e-cards and price differences between shops. But all of these obstacles are taken care of in the implementation follow-up plan,” Wisam says.

Palestine refugee Nabeel Lutfi collects his SSNP wallet, which contains his family’s e-card. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Ahmad Abu Haweleh

Nabeel’s family is one of 3,447 families in the Irbid area whose family is registered under SSNP and receive direct food and cash aid from UNRWA. His family will receive the SSNP assistance as the new cycle begins on July 2016, but this time he doesn’t have to line up and carry the food all the way home. Any family member can walk to the nearby pre-identified supermarket and get the food that the family needs.

Seventy-three-year-old Palestine refugee Mohammad Yousef puts his fingerprint in the Agency’s records to receive his family e-card. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Ahmad Abu Haweleh

Mohammad lives in a house with his nine daughters and his wife. He sustained a brain stroke several years ago, which left him partially paralized and unable to work. “My wife used to collect the food and cash assistance from UNRWA every three months,” Mohammad explains. “Our family is big and therefore our rations are too heavy for her to manage alone. I believe it is much better to go to the supermarket and get exactly what we want and not have to buy it all at one time or store it in the house.”

Social worker Youef Alemari gives a group of SSNP beneficiaries a briefing on the e-card system. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Ahmad Abu Haweleh

The UNRWA relief and social services programme organized a comprehensive induction for SSNP families, who were split into groups to attend a briefing about the new modality – its benefits, the challenges that the beneficiaries might face during the implementation,  and how to address them.

“The e-card modality is new to all of us, including staff and refugees. It is normal for the refugees to ask many questions about it. My colleagues and I addressed all the issues around the new modality in the inductions and also attempted to answer all the questions raised by the refugees as well,” Yousef says.

Laila al-Jamal collects the e-card on behalf of her mother-in-law after following the verification procedures. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Ahmad Abu Haweleh

“My mother in law is about 87 years old. I used to collect the assistance on her behalf every three months. It was a hassle as I had to leave her and the children alone at home for at least six hours,” explains Laila. “Now I can buy the food she wants from the nearby civil corporate supermarket and cash the money from the bank at my convenience.”

Amneh Rammah reaches the last stop in process to receive her e-card. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Ahmad Abu Haweleh

The Irbid area was the last destination for UNRWA to distribute the e-cards to SSNP beneficiaries. The process started in the Zarqa area before moving to the other three areas. The distribution went smoothly without any major hiccups or complications.

Palestine refugee Hanan Salah completes the last verification step after receiving her family’s e-card. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Ahmad Abu Haweleh

Hanan’s husband suffers from disk pain, which stopped him from doing his work as a blacksmith. She has three girls and one boy living with her and her husband. Hanan’s family was recently enrolled in the SSNP.

“My first experience in getting UNRWA assistance was shocking for me. For two consecutive days, I wasn’t able to collect my assistance. On the third day, I stayed from 9 in the morning until 1 in the afternoon for my turn. I paid transportation fees equal to the cash I get for one family member,” Hanan says. “But life changes. UNRWA’s new assistance modality is an improvement we do appreciate.”

Bana Mansour, who accompanied her mother to collect her family’s e-card, holds the pamphlet given to SSNP families, which details all of the information the families need to know about the new modality. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Ahmad Abu Haweleh