By Rajat Madhok
In Yemen, approximately 2 million children are currently out of school, due in large part to the ongoing conflict in the country. Hear how one mother’s perseverance has kept her sons enrolled in classes.
SANA'A, Yemen, 3 October 2016 – Meet Um Osama, a fighter in Yemen but with a different kind of cause. Armed with nothing but hope for a brighter and safer future for her children, the mother of two is determined that her children continue their education in spite of the ongoing fighting.
“My sons were studying in a private school, all was well but now because of the fighting, we have had to make severe financial cuts. I can’t afford to send my children to the private school anymore,” she says. “So here I am at this government school to enrol my sons in grade 2 and 7.” She herself only studied until grade 6.
Um Osama is not alone in this fight – hundreds of thousands of parents are worried about their children’s education. UNICEF estimates that presently at least 350,000 children are unable to go to schools across Yemen, either because the schools have been damaged by the fighting, are occupied by fighters, or are doubling as shelters for the millions who have been displaced. This is in addition to more than 1.6 million children who were already out of school during the 2015–2016 school year.
Even the school where Um Osama wants to admit her sons has been scarred by the conflict. It was partially damaged when three bombs hit one of the buildings last year. Luckily no students were in the school at that time. The airstrikes destroyed parts of the roof and the science laboratory, making some of the classrooms unsafe for children and teachers to use. But that didn’t deter the gritty mother from enroling her children.
“Absolutely, I am scared, very scared that my children might get caught or hurt in the conflict,” she said. “But I am more concerned about them missing out on their crucial years of education.”
Major repairs underway
Ahmad Al Tashi, UNICEF’s Construction Engineer, is responsible for the repair of damaged schools in Sana’a and in the adjoining governorates. “UNICEF has so far assessed that there are at least 174 schools across the city that need either minor, or like in this case, major repairs,” he says. “We are working with the education department so that repairs can be done before children come back to school.”
He then points at a gaping hole in the roof caused by an airstrike. “Of course major repairs such as these will take a long time.”
Read the UNICEF report: Children on the Brink
At the entrance of the school, the line of parents and children waiting to enrol for the new calendar year is now slowly but steadily growing. UNICEF’s Communication for Development Officer Abdulkhalek Zainah is there, talking to them, reassuring them as much as he can.
He knows and relates to their worries because he is a parent too. “As part of our Back to School campaign, we want children to return to school and not miss out on their studies, otherwise my fear is that we may have a generation of children who will have lost out on their education,” he said.
Back at the registration center, Um Osama has completed the enrolment process for her children. She is happy that her two sons will continue their studies, but their safety weighs heavily on her. When asked if she had a message for the world, she responds, “Please spare our children and think about their future. We are humans first and it is our duty to provide our children with a secure and healthy environment where they can complete their education and pursue their dreams.”
Thanks to generous funding from The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the KWF Development Bank, Educate A Child (EAC), Japan and Global Partnership for Education, UNICEF is supporting the Department of Education with the rehabilitation of at least 728 schools across the country.
Where schools have been damaged or are being used as shelters for displaced families, UNICEF has made temporary learning spaces by providing school authorities with tents. These tents work as ad-hoc classrooms and students attend classes in morning and afternoon shifts.