Imm Ahmed: Supported by the social safety net in Jordan

01 November 2009

Meet Fatima, known to most as Imm Ahmed. She lives with her husband and children in Jerash camp, Jordan.

Imm Ahmed’s parents fled from their village in the Yafa district in 1948 to Ismalia, Egypt, where she was born in 1958. The young Fatima earned a degree in secretarial skills from an Egyptian institute. In 1982 when she was 24 years old, she married Hamouda, from the Jerash camp in Jordan. After her marriage, she moved to Jordan to live with him in the camp.

A few months ago, Hamouda began a cleaning job in a private company operating in the Jordanian University where he earns 110 dinars (US$155) monthly. He works hard despite his illness, since he supports his mother, his wife and six children, four of whom suffer from severe hearing disabilities. They all live together in a modest home in the camp, which houses nearly 25,000 other refugees from Gaza. The camp lacks a sewage system, among other things, and its residents depend heavily on UNRWA services. Since they hold neither Jordanian citizenship nor Jordanian ID numbers, they do not have access to state health insurance or social security and they cannot hold government jobs.

Given Hamouda’s deteriorating health and his subsequent inability to work, his wife applied for benefits under UNRWA‘s social safety net programme in July 2004.

This is a day in Imm Ahmed‘s life.

5:30: Breakfast time. After she and her husband awake for the dawn prayer, Imm Ahmed begins to prepare breakfast using only her hands and the food provided by the social safety net; a European Union-funded programme which provides Fatima and her family with staples such as milk, cooking oil, beans and chickpeas. As such, almost every day the family has the same breakfast of ful, hummus, falafel and thyme, accompanied by tea, milk and bread. The social safety net also allows families to pull themselves out of absolute and extreme poverty by giving them regular subsidies of 7 dinars (US$10). She also purchased the refrigerator in their kitchen through a 250 dinar (US$353) grant from the programme. Even their new two-room house was constructed in 2008 through a grant from the European Union.

8:00: Take kids to school. Imm Ahmed takes one of her daughters, Sifa, to an UNRWA school and her other daughter, Nahi, who suffers from a mental illness and a severe hearing disability, to the community rehabilitation centre. UNRWA operates one of the largest school systems in the Middle East and has been the main provider of basic education to Palestine refugees for nearly five decades. The Agency provides primary and junior secondary schooling free of charge for all Palestine refugee children, but in recent years, budget shortages and increasing enrolments have forced many UNRWA schools, including Sifa’s, to operate in a morning and an afternoon shift. UNRWA community rehabilitation centres work to integrate refugees with special needs into the community by teaching them basic skills like personal hygiene, social behaviours and other life skills. Imm Ahmed says that her daughter’s behaviour with her siblings has improved since she began going to the community rehabilitation centre.

12:30: Collect children from school. The children return home and sit with their mother. Imm Ahmed pays particular attention to her children’s education. They often come home from school and talk about dropping out, since other students make fun of the hearing disability from which they suffer. Her son Ahmed’s disability was so severe that he was unable to pursue a training course in aluminium work. Imm Ahmed talks to her children about their days and takes a special interest in their studies to encourage them. Headsets exist that would help Ahmed, Mohammed, Marwan and Nahi to hear better, but they cost 1600 dinars (US$2260) each.

11:00: Time for bed. Imm Ahmed and Hamouda discuss each of their difficult days. Imm Ahmed doesn’t sleep well. She worries constantly that her husband’s condition will cause him to lose his job; his employers keep threatening to fire him because of his failiing health.

EU-UNRWA: A Partnership for Development and Humanity