BEIRUT—Lebanon’s economic crisis is now so bad that practically every student has to work to pay their education and avoid being a drain on their families. The Lebanese pound has lost more than 95 percent of its value in the last three years, the government is crippled by factional infighting, and some people have even staged bank robberies to try to access their own savings.
The crisis has made young people creative in their search for any form of funding.
Jana Boutros and Marguerita Mhaweis, second-year students at Holy Spirit University of Kaslik majoring in biochemistry and finance, respectively, have set up a small business called Just Candles producing and selling scented candles.
“Like all students we have personal expenses and university fees to pay. The skyrocketing inflation and high cost of living prompted us to think about ways to make money. So we decided to produce scented candles.”Jana Boutros, one of two students at Holy Spirit University of Kaslik who set up a small business selling scented candles
“Like all students we have personal expenses and university fees to pay. The skyrocketing inflation and high cost of living prompted us to think about ways to make money. So we decided to produce scented candles,” Boutros said.
The pair started production at home a year ago, created an Instagram page and participated in fairs and festivals to get exposure and help the business grow.
“We dedicated most of our summer vacation to work on the project. Things got trickier in winter as we had to find a balance between studies and work,” she added.
For Mhaweis, as well as being a passion Just Candles gives the women a certain financial independence and allows them to help their parents “at this time of acute economic hardship.”
“First, we rented a shack by the beach in summer to sell our candles. We then decided to develop the work and increase production. We got more moulds and new fragrances and rented a workshop where people can now examine the candles, buy and place orders,” Mhaweis said.
Trying to Balance Work and Study
Fady Zgheib works as a waiter to try to cover his living expenses while completing a master’s degree in international affairs at the Lebanese American University.
“Unfortunately, students juggling between classes and work has become a common feature,” he said. “We need to do it, we have no choice.”
“College students normally should focus on their studies. … Sadly, studying is not our only challenge.”
Like many students from middle class families that were relatively comfortable before the economic crisis hit Lebanon in 2019, Zgheib, who is 22 and has been working for more than two years, has to generate enough income to cover his personal expenses and contribute to the household.
Zgheib handles two jobs on top of his studies. He is a research assistant at the university which earns him a significant reduction in his tuition fees, and has a job in Beirut’s nightlife area.
While the pay is fair, the night job takes a toll on the young man.
“I work from 9 in the evening until 4 in the morning. I go to sleep when people are normally waking up to start their day. That turns my schedule upside down and it’s difficult for me to maintain a normal college life.”Fady Zgheib, a master’s degree student in international affairs at the Lebanese American University.
“I work from 9 in the evening until 4 in the morning. I go to sleep when people are normally waking up to start their day. That turns my schedule upside down and it’s difficult for me to maintain a normal college life,” he said.
Since graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science, Zgheib has been trying desperately to find a commensurate job.
“I apply day in and day out, but due to the dire situation in the country it is very difficult to get a decent opportunity. So you end up doing what you can to make yourself productive. … It is a way for me to help my parents.”
Dedicating his time to his studies is also a luxury that Antoine Khabbaz, 22, a third-year mathematics student at St. Joseph University of Beirut, cannot afford.
In addition to paying for his studies, Khabbaz covers a large part of the household expenses and helps his disabled aunt.
“I give private maths lessons for 20 students,” he said. “I start working after university at three in the afternoon and most of the time I finish at 11 at night, after which I can do my studies.”
Khabbaz missed a year at university and failed a few courses because he did not have time to study properly. “I can’t stop working otherwise I can’t pay my university tuition fees anymore. It is very exhausting. I wait for the weekend to be able to rest, but even on weekends I have to work sometimes,” he told Al-Fanar Media.
Taking Up an Unexpected Challenge
The same applies to 19-year-old Tia Saad, a second-year biochemistry student at St. Joseph University. She is a professional dancer and a gymnastics teacher.
“The money I earn from the gymnastics classes covers my personal expenses. I also help my parents pay for fuel and for the power generator. What I earn from professional dancing, especially from performing abroad, which is better paid than locally, helps pay for my university tuition.”
“We did not expect what happened to us. We were not prepared to face such big economic challenges, but we had no choice but to assume responsibility at a young age.”Tia Saad, a second-year biochemistry student at St. Joseph University of Beirut who works as a professional dancer and a gymnastics teacher
“We did not expect what happened to us. We were not prepared to face such big economic challenges, but we had no choice but to assume responsibility at a young age,” she said.
The Lebanese pound’s nosedive in value, which recently reached a record low of 140,000 to one U.S. dollar, has prompted universities to insist that students pay some or all their tuition fees in dollars. Universities have justified the change by saying that they have to pay their own expenses in U.S. dollars but the general increase in tuition fees may force hundreds of thousands of students out of higher education.
More than half of Lebanon’s population has fallen into poverty since the onset of the crisis. Lebanese banks have imposed draconian withdrawal restrictions, essentially locking depositors out of their own savings. Political inaction and a lack of accountability has been a hallmark of the crisis, which the World Bank has called one of the world’s worst since the mid-nineteenth century.
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