A Little Help From Her Card

A Palestinian family swipes away despair

Neimat walks back to her house, where she lives with her sister and mother

Neimat Faqih is 49 years old.

Beneath her timid smile, she hides a life full of hardship and responsibility.

Neimat lives in the Al Aqqaba neighborhood, in Nablus, West Bank, in a small house in the old city with her sister and ailing mother.

Like over a quarter of Palestinians, the women lack employment, and the family struggles to meet their basic needs.

“We had money but now there are no jobs,” she explains.

A picture of the Al Aqaba neighborhood, in Nablus, West Bank
Neimat sits next to her ailing mother
Neimat prepares a bowl of soup for her ailing mother

“Ladies on our own”

What little income the family brings in can evaporate instantly in the care for Neimat’s diabetic mother, who is mostly confined to a small bed set up in the corner of the living room.

“My mother takes two injections, and this costs us a lot. It’s too expensive for me to buy,” Neimat says.

Her day revolves around her mother’s care – helping her dress and bathe, shopping and cooking for her.

“Life is hard and the situation is not that good,” she says. “We are ladies on our own.”

Neimat walks towards a local market in Al Aqaba, where she will buy supplies for her family

Money is tight. And the family has few indulgences.

But starting in 2011, they began receiving a monthly cash injection on an electronic voucher card – equivalent to about $10 – which Neimat uses like a debit card to purchase basic products at a local shop.

Each week she goes to a neighborhood store that participates in the program.

Browsing the aisles, she chooses from a pre-approved list of locally produced items—nutritious foods including dairy products and oils, pulses and grains.

She brings the items to the counter, the shopkeeper swipes the card, and away she goes.

“The card helps with lots of things of course,” she says. “Today we bought lentils, eggs, yogurt and bread.”

Neimat picks out a bottle of cooking oil from a local grocery store
Neimat picks out a carton of eggs from a local grocery store
Neimat prepares to use her voucher card to pay for her groceries

Shopping with Dignity

USAID is providing the electronic voucher cards – in lieu of direct food handouts - in some West Bank communities.

The innovative program enables beneficiaries to shop with dignity and also helps boost local industry – from the shops that accept the vouchers to the producers that supply them.

For families like Neimat’s, these vouchers are a crucial tool to protect them from purchasing food on credit or skipping meals.

Malek Anabtawi, 35, is the owner of the Anabtawi Shop, and has been part of the electronic food voucher program since 2011. His shop is one of more than 60 participating in the West Bank.

The program has been a boon for his business, with about 10 percent of all his customers using the electronic voucher card.

“The more you know, the more you learn how many people here are in deep need,” he says. “It’s important to help them.”

Since he enrolled in the program, Malek’s sales have gone up by a quarter.

A grocer hand Neimat back her voucher card
Neimat walks home with two bags of groceries in her hands

“It’s the best thing.”

After buying her week’s worth of items, Neimat heads back home to prepare lunch for her mother and sister.

Although it’s a full time job, Neimat says that it is not a chore: “It’s a nice feeling, looking after my mother and sister and taking care of them. It’s the best thing.”

Neimat is proud of her role as caregiver.

But she is also deeply thankful for the support she receives to be able to play this role.

“If they ever stop the voucher, we’ll be in a tough situation,” she says.

Neimat prepares a meal for her mother, while is sitting on a bed in the background
Neimat adds ingredients into a bowl
Neimat ladles soup into a bowl for her mother to eat
Neimat (left), her mother (middle), and her sister (right) enjoy a conversation with each other after the meal

“God is great and he won't forget about us,” she says.

“There is nothing more I can say.”

About this story

USAID is a major provider of food assistance to needy families in the West Bank and Gaza. In 2014 alone, our grant to the World Food Program helped 203,000 of the most vulnerable and food-insecure individuals meet their basic food needs.

Starting in 2011, USAID began supporting the World Food Program’s electronic voucher program, implemented by the NGO Global Communities. And in 2014, 35,000 of all USAID-supported West Bank and Gaza food aid recipients received electronic food vouchers instead of receiving direct food assistance.

Through this innovative program, urban families like Neimat’s receive the equivalent $10 every month in vouchers on an electronic debit card that allows them to purchase locally produced nutritious foods including eggs, bread, milk, beans, lentils and peas at local shops.

Photos and video by Bobby Neptune and Brian Hill