These are some of the many stories that continue to pour out of the tiny towns of Yemen, stories that bring to attention the courage of communities that refuse to surrender to circumstances they found themselves in due to the conflict. This is how the people stood tall, united and strong, living with hope of a brighter tomorrow, in the face of an unending humanitarian disaster.
The story of Umm Mojeeb, a communication for development volunteer – Every morning Umm Mojeeb, a community volunteer, bids her mother farewell and heads off with other community volunteers towards the villages of Lahej. Each day she stuffs her small fabric bag with IEC (information, education and communication) materials, set for her mission. This has been her daily ritual, charting and marking her way around the small village of Al-Majhafa meeting communities and promoting the importance of sending children back to school.
Today as she passes the Al-Shahyed Abdulalim primary school, where over 533 children used to go to before it was destroyed during the last conflict, her voice is tinged with sorrow.
“Sometimes I still can hear children laughter while playing in the school yard. Then I realize that I am just imagining it, there are no more children in this school. This school in total ruins.” Umm Mojeeb says.
Destruction dots the landscape in this part of Lahej where the fighting was intense. Across the country, the conflict has displaced more than 2.5 million people, including children.
“This is my everyday life. Engaging with communities, women, men, children and adolescents. Every time I leave them with the hope that they will practice what I told them about. Sometimes it is not easy for them to adopt these practices. I have to keep meeting them, trying to convince them that these practices would surely help save them and their and children’s lives. They always listen with respect.” Umm Mojeeb, continues talking to us while approaching her village.
The story of Ensigam, a teacher in a local school, Sheikh Ommrani who offered his house as a temporary learning centre and 8 year old Rami –“This is the house of Sheikh Amrani. He offered us 3 rooms as classrooms for children. I am teaching them Arabic and I feel proud that this village has such a committed person who didn’t hesitate to offer these children his house to study” beams teacher Ensigam.
Even before the conflict flared in March last year, teaching in Yemen was no easy task. With a dearth of teaching staff, the number of students in a class could often reach 100, and when the frequent power cuts took place, classes were disrupted regularly.
“I am very proud of my people, the men and women of Al-Majhafa village (of Toban district of Lahej). Even after the village school was destroyed by the rockets, parents did not accept that their children should miss the new school year. The sheikh of our village Amrani and Immam Abdullah opened their houses as alternative classrooms for over 289 children” Majda Awad adds proudly.
“I want to go back to my school. Out here there is no playing yard, but at least there is a room, a teacher to teach us so we don’t miss the year,” 8 year old Rami, tells us with a smile.
As the conflict engulfed the country, 3,584 schools were closed, 502 of them were partially or completely destroyed.
“I coordinated with Usstad Faris Ahmed, the school principle to provide us with teachers. They come to my house to teach children. We cannot deprive children from learning. We should all gather our efforts to ensure their future,” Sheikh Ommrani noted.
UNICEF has undertaken training for teachers in psychosocial support is enabling them to better meet the needs of children in Yemen, as conflict has kept nearly 2 million out of school. UNICEF continued to deliver a package of education support with focus on vulnerable IDP children. UNICEF and the Governorate Education Offices (GEOs) in Hodeidah, Hajjah, Almahwit, Aden, Shabwa, Lahj, Ald- halea and Abyan, distributed school bags and school kits for 73,731 IDPs and other affected children. UNICEF has also continued the Back to School (B2S) campaign and out-of-school children programmes.
Ansar Rasheed works in the Programme Section of UNICEF’s Aden, Yemen office