“I want nothing for myself. I just want these children to be happy and to live in peace.”
These are the simple words from Alhaga Misk, a 55-year-old grandmother who lives with her four grandchildren in a displaced persons camp in Ibb Governorate.
I met her and the children on a recent visit to Ibb. When she introduced herself and her four grandchildren, Misk explained how they had been her responsibility since their father disappeared five years ago. Their mother was visiting relatives in a nearby village and could not return safely due to the conflict. She said the frightened children held her tightly and cried because of the non-stop sounds of war. The airstrikes were targeting a military camp not too far from their home and that was what made her decide to get the children out of the village and to a safer place.
“We traveled by foot and stayed with generous people who took us in overnight,” she explains. “We finally reached Ibb, and searched for a camp. After three days of travel, we were very hungry, thirsty and tired. Our feet were worn out. I noticed a coffee shop and walked up to ask for water for the children, but the owner replied, “Where is the money? No water for you.”
“As I walked away, tears streaming down my cheeks, a young man approached us and asked what had happened,” she recounts. “He told us to wait and, moments later, he brought us water and a car to take us to a nearby hotel where we were given food, water and a blanket.”
I asked her about the children’s education, and why they were all in grade one, to which she replied, “I was too poor to send them to school. I was able to feed them by collecting bottles and selling them. Just last year, I got a job as a cleaner at a nearby school. Since there was a salary, I registered them at a school. However, the war has now interrupted their schooling and destroyed my hopes of giving them a basic education.”
As I listened my emotions ran high and tears filled my eyes. I asked the children what they wanted. Anatar, 10, replied in tears, “I want mom and I want to go back home.” Ragad, eight-years-old stood silent and shy. Roa’a, who is six-years-old, just smiled and exclaimed, “give me whatever you have,” while five-year-old Mohsen, said “I want cake!”
With the war still raging on, there is no hope for Misk and her grandchildren to return home soon. According to latest figures, one million people in Yemen have been uprooted from their homes by the conflict. Many of them have similar or even more horrible stories like Misk.
Rania Al-Zubairi is a Communication for Development Officer working at UNICEF Yemen