Garlic is keeping this Syrian refugee family alive


ZAHLE, Lebanon — Fahda Hammoud has 11 children, and many more grandchildren. She lives in a makeshift shelter on the edge of a plowed field in eastern Lebanon with 30-year-old Ghadir — the only one of her daughters who has yet to wed. 

The Syrian women fled Homs in 2012. Until last year, they lived in a household of three with Fahda’s husband. He was the family’s sole provider, getting casual work where he could. They struggled to get by on what he earned, but when he was killed in a car accident, things got dramatically worse. 

Shortly after his death they had to take in two of Fahda’s grandchildren. One of Fahda’s sons had divorced the mother of the children and remarried. His new wife would beat the kids, Fahda says. 

“Before my husband died he said we should bring his grandsons here to live. So that’s what I did,” says Fahda, sitting in her tent on a bright and cold winter afternoon. 

Suddenly they had more mouths to feed, and less money to do it with. 

Fahda started peeling garlic for a local restaurant a little while before her husband passed away. Afterward, their tiny operation got a lot bigger. 

They work for six or seven hours a day. They are paid 500 Lebanese pounds ($0.30) per kilogram. 

“It’s time consuming,” says Ghadir. “We work in the winter and the summer.” 

But it helps them get by. Of the more than one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, around 70 percent live below Lebanon's extreme poverty line

When the weather is very bad they take their mini-assembly line inside their small two-room shelter. 

“Garlic has a very strong smell. When we sit inside it can be overwhelming,” Ghadir adds.