Amidst the ongoing conflict, countless examples exist of inspiring resilience among the Yemeni people. Here, UNDP will take you on a journey through those untold stories, and outline the efforts undertaken by UNDP and its partners to make Yemen a better place.
Life for ordinary citizens has ground to a halt as the conflict continues to wreak havoc on entire urban districts and rural communities alike. Yemenis from all walks of life have been affected to some degree, as vital civilian infrastructure is destroyed, government services are suspended and the country’s economy descends into chaos. These new realities have closed off many opportunities for the population, igniting a national sense of insecurity. The United Nations has declared its highest-level humanitarian emergency in Yemen.
And yet, amidst these enormous challenges, Yemenis have managed to show remarkable strength and an ability to cope.
A GAMBLE THAT PAID OFF
He cannot afford to go without work, and when he looks into the eyes of his younger siblings, he knows he cannot give up. At 22, Ayman al-Ahdal is the sole income provider for his family. In late 2014, UNDP helped Ayman achieve his goal by providing him business training and a grant to open his own business, a small cafeteria. Unable to afford rent for a shopfront, Ayman sold his five goats – his most valuable possessions – to buy a vehicle to serve as a mobile canteen. Fortunately, his gamble paid off. Ayman’s business has flourished and he was able to buy new goats from the shop’s profit. More importantly, he has brought hope back to his family.
In a country with 53 percent youth unemployment, 24-year-old Bushta Futaini was determined not to become part of this trend. She had a business plan to bring gas cylinders to her community, which does not have a gas station. Using loans from friends, she managed to purchase ten cylinders to kickstart her business.
Bushta has not allowed the difficult circumstances to stop her seeking a dignified life. “She did not let anything stand the way of her opening her business,” recounts Sabah Badri Bakkir, Executive Director of the For All Foundation, a UNDP partner in Abyan. “Bushta embodies a true spirit of entrepreneurship.”
CASH FOR TRASH
Waste management is among the many challenges facing the country. Against this backdrop, UNDP is implementing a “cash for trash” initiative aimed at both boosting people’s incomes as well as improving community hygiene.
The breakdown of garbage and human waste disposal systems, along with deterioration in the number and capability of medical facilities, has contributed to an uptick in various diseases in Aden, including dengue fever. Up to 80 percent of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance, and lacks access to clean water, according to UN estimates. In Aden, UNDP and its partner organization, START, have launched a cleaning campaign in Enma zone that supports 350 residents and internally displaced persons. The targeted youth were provided with daily cash payment in return for their work.
However, the engaged youth have worked more than their assigned working hours, and 20 members from the community have volunteered to help them complete the tasks before Eid. “It was not easy to implement the activities under such circumstances, but thanks to support from the community and motivation from young participants, we were able to take the initiative and make the neighbourhood more livable,” said START coordinator, Marwa Ba-Obaid.
BUSINESSES THAT SELL AND BENEFIT
In partnership with the Millennium Development Foundation (MDF) and For All Foundation, UNDP Yemen has engaged more than 53 vulnerable youth, including 30 women, in the Nuqum and Tahreer areas by providing alternative economic opportunities. The social businesses focus on generating income and responding to the needs of a community struggling to cope with the conflict. For example, youth participants offer charcoal, ironing and garbage collection services to local residents, mitigating the impact of prolonged electricity outages and mounting solid waste build-up. In addition, a community service center will be established to provide essential goods and services, such as cooking gas, drinking water, and mobile phone charging.
“It is a challenge to support people’s income these days, but we tried to support people with income and mitigate the pressure on the communities as a result of war,” said Asia al-Mashraqi, an MDF representative.
WE FINALLY HAVE IDS
In Khayran district, it is common to have the village leader hold official documents on behalf of residents. Prevalent gender norms also mean that men, who often do not have ID documents themselves, are reluctant to provide them to women. Against this backdrop, UNDP has partnered with MDF to assist marginalized women in gaining socio-economic independence – starting with obtaining their own basic identification documents. Without them, women were in effect barred from fully participating in society.
Amplifying Yemenis’ stories worth telling
UNDP is using innovative media to amplify people’s concerns to a broader audience. For example, we have published a series of micro narratives, called ‘Voices of Yemen’, which are designed to shed light on the daily challenges Yemenis face at the grassroots level. It offers a platform to enable affected people to share their opinions, show their grievances and flag their priorities – all in a well-designed, compelling format. We are also leveraging new technologies to help broadcast these stories. In partnership with Cognitive Edge, UNDP has launched SenseMaker, a new search tool that is quantifying qualitative data from 1,200 stories shared by Yemenis in six targeted governorates.
MEET OUR HEROES BEHIND THE SCENES
Working in well-lit offices with dependable electricity, and peace of mind is a luxury inaccessible to UNDP Yemen’s field staff, who have been giving voice to hundreds of Yemenis across the country through the ‘Voices of Yemen’ series. Amidst the ongoing conflict, our writers often had to resort to drafting the stories on their cell phones.
“We still need to do our work, even though there’s been no electricity for weeks,” said staff member Rasha, from Taiz. “Therefore, I just write on my phone, letter by letter.”
“I told my boss to excuse me for any mistakes and errors,” she added.
UNDP has provided solar-powered equipment to its staff to facilitate their work in the face of continual electricity and internet outages.
And for many, their basic survival has been at risk while working. Some have had to flee their hometowns due to the conflict.
During field visits last October, UNDP and MDF representatives lobbied on behalf of women like 20-year-old friends Fatima and Fatehyah for the village leader to relinquish control of their election cards, IDs and social security cards. After initial pushback, the team successfully convinced him to return the documents. Furthermore, over the course of 18 sessions held in various districts, the MDF team was also able to build crucial support for IDs for women among families – with some parents even going to the governorate office to lobby for their daughters to have IDs. As people face difficulties in securing their daily income, they have shown determination to change their lives and to embrace new attitudes. Thanks to the strong will of the people and women, the project was successful in releasing IDs for the female participants. “We are happy that now 350 women from Khayran and Abs have obtained their official documents, it is an accomplishment by itself.” said MDF’s Asia al-Mashraqi.