Tunisia, a country on the Mediterranean coast of north Africa, was already suffering from a challenged economy before COVID-19. With the loss of jobs due to the pandemic, many more people faced a financial crisis. The Adventist Development and Relief Agency’s (ADRA) unconditional cash project in Tunisia has helped to intervene through its unconditional cash transfers.
“Unconditional cash transfers are cash payments provided to financially disadvantaged people without requiring anything in return,” says Samson Bush, ADRA communications officer in Tunisia. “ADRA provided 500 Tunisian dinars [about US$183] in cash assistance to 145 vulnerable households [approximately 580 individuals] to help those hardest hit by the economic downturn.” According to Bush, the small amount of cash makes a big difference for households receiving assistance. This is illustrated by the story of Naziha,* shared by ADRA volunteers.
Mohammed Ali and another ADRA volunteer were on their way home from delivering the unconditional cash funds when they spotted a middle-aged woman. Her name is Naziha, and she was pushing an old wooden wheelbarrow down the street with her son in it. The boy was crippled and strapped into the wheelbarrow with a belt.
“As we watched her, we noticed her pace slowed as she pulled out an old phone and began calling someone,” Ali says. “We heard the desperation in her voice as she began asking for food for her child. ‘I have nothing to feed him,’ we heard her cry out.”
Ali knew they had to do something, but they had given out all of the ADRA cash funds. They waited until she paused for rest and walked up to her, keeping a respectful distance. She looked at their badges and asked what ADRA represented.
“We couldn’t help hearing what you said,” Ali said to her. “We are volunteers for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, a global humanitarian organization.” They went on to tell her about ADRA and how they had been helping others in Tunisia.
They learned that Naziha was only receiving money equivalent to US$66 each month for her child. With that, she was able to buy diapers and medicine but very little else. She spent her days collecting plastic for recycling and selling it to purchase food.
Ali and the volunteer were invited by Naziha to see her home. They found that it had no running water or electricity, and the toilet was beyond repair. Winters in Tunisia are long and windy, and she had no heat during the cold months nor air conditioning in the summer heat. Her main desire, she said, was to find a wheelchair for her son.
The two volunteers asked for her contact information and promised to submit her name for unconditional cash funds. It was approved, and Naziha was able to receive the unconditional cash. “She said it was the first time in her entire life that she had held money equivalent to US$150 in her hand at once,” Ali says. The money was sufficient for Naziha to get what she needed, and her family receives sustainable support for the time being.
“We have been able to keep in contact with Naziha,” Bush says. “She was able to buy the wheelchair; however, her quality of life has not changed nor improved. She's still living one day at a time, and her life is extremely difficult at the moment.”
Bush says that ADRA doesn’t have any more funds to help her but is working to see how they can further assist.
“I know God put us there at the right place and the right moment to see the needs of this poor woman and her son,” Ali adds. “We were able to make a difference in her life.”