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Lights on in Lebanon

1 in 7 people
Live without electricity
Meet three women in Lebanon fighting these odds


Fiery spirit, big dreams

“Boys have more freedom than girls. Even at night, boys can go outside.”

It’s almost 7pm on a cold winter’s night. Seventeen-year-old Alissar walks back to her house in Bireh, a rural area of Lebanon. In her hands, she clutches two small bags full of groceries.

Just three years earlier, this everyday scene would’ve been unthinkable for girls like her.

What changed? A set of solar-powered streetlights installed along the main road in town.

“Before we had streetlights, my father would never send us on the street at night to buy groceries because it was too dark.”

“Now, he doesn’t mind sending us, and I’m not scared anymore – I can go alone.”

Whilst shy at first, she’s quick to unleash her sass.

“Our society is against women,” she says, matter-of-factly. “Especially in our village, people don’t gossip about boys like they do about girls.

“But I don’t care if people talk about me, because I know who I am.”

Unlike some of their siblings and friends, Alissar’s parents take a more progressive approach to raising their daughters.

“We grew up with the idea that it’s better for a girl to leave school and stay home,” says Iman, Alissar’s mother. “But I myself don’t think this way. My husband and I give our children the choice to do whatever they want in life.”

And as parents of seven daughters, they’ve had plenty of experience.

In a close-knit community like Bireh, most people know each other, yet parents still fear for the safety of their daughters. When the sun goes down, girls stay indoors. That’s just the way it was.

Until the streetlights came.

Now, simple tasks – like going to the shops at night to buy groceries – have become simple again. Women and girls are out in the street, socializing with friends and enjoying life.

“The streetlights are not only important for me, but for the whole village. They’ve changed our lifestyle for the better.”

As she sits in her living room surrounded by her family, Alissar doesn’t shy away from making her future ambitions crystal clear.

“I don’t think about marriage. My dream is to travel abroad, to all the cities. I love London, New York, Paris. The most important thing for me is to see people outside of Lebanon.”

Her plans may be lofty, but her spirit is fiery. And with the door to her home now permanently open, she can step fearlessly outside, towards her future.

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Playing her cards right

“We have around 12 hours of power cuts per day.”

Asma sits on an old couch in her small, one-bedroom apartment in Bekaa, Lebanon. She’s playing cards with her 15-year-old son Rico, who lives with her. The game is ‘Fourteen’ and it’s similar to Rummy.

“We play it our own way… we just make up our own rules,” she says, chuckling.

Nights are cold in Bekaa, and darkness comes early, so this particular scene is common in winter. The majority of time is spent indoors - but when half of your day is without power, options are limited.

“I used to sew but I had to stop because my machine only functions with electricity, and I don’t have a generator.”

So when the power cuts at night, she usually plays cards with Rico.

Asma is one of the luckier ones in her village. She owns a small Photovoltaic (PV) kit that provides enough electricity to power three rooms and a mobile phone charger.

It’s a small help - but it makes a huge difference.

“Without the PV kits, we would’ve had to spend a lot of money on a big battery, a charger and a UPS.”

While Asma works at the local municipality, her income is only just enough to cover the bills. And despite being married for 10 years, she lives life as a single mother. Her husband is Bangladeshi, and in Lebanon, cross-cultural relationships like this are frowned upon, so he was forced to leave the country.

While uncertainty shrouds her life, Asma is hopeful - particularly about Rico’s future.

“I want to secure my son’s future. My one wish is that he continues his studies so he can live a more comfortable life than the one we’re living now.”

For Asma, summertime brings a renewed sense of energy. She loves being active, and keeping herself busy is how she gets through her life’s challenges.

“I’ll usually fix things at home, or do some gardening. Rico and I used to ride bicycles together, and we even played football and ran around together, almost every day.”

It’s a tough life for single mothers like her in Lebanon, but watching Rico smile underneath the dim lights reminds her why it’s worth the struggle.

As she throws down her last card, she wins the game. A sign perhaps, that a bright future awaits.

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Not your average grandma

“The cold can get unbearable here and we cannot live without heating.”

Surrounded by mountains, Sahar's house sits in one of the poorest regions of the country. In winter, temperatures in the region can plummet to -10C (14F).

And yet, in contrast with most of the houses nearby, a blanket of warmth greets you as you enter her home. The heat emanates from a stove that dominates the living room.

Sahar is not your ordinary grandmother. At nearly 60 years old, she’s responsible for taking care of five young grandchildren, aged 18 months to 11 years. She has to do it; her son Ali moved to Beirut with his wife for work. The 500 USD he earns every month is the family’s only source of income.

“He works very hard, days and nights, to send his children to school.”

In Arabic, Sahar’s name means ‘dawn.’ And every day, at six in the morning, she wakes up, prepares breakfast for her family and gets the children ready for school.

“We usually wake up and it’s freezing in the house. I put the stove on very early in the morning before the children wake up to warm the room.”

While it’s a vital source of warmth, Sahar also uses the stove to cook food for the family; traditional Lebanese stews are her specialty. And in the evening, when she finishes showering the kids, they run towards it to warm up.

“We normally start using the stove in October, all the way until May. If I didn’t receive this stove, I wouldn’t be able to heat the house. The cost of fuel and groceries has become too expensive and we just can’t afford it anymore.”

Caring is in Sahar’s nature. Her first-ever job was working as a nurse. But today, her ailing health and small family income makes it hard to bear the burden of raising five children. The stove, despite being just a small aid, has offered her some reprieve – keeping her family warm is one less thing to worry about.

And watching them healthy, warm and full of energy is what keeps her going.

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