A Community in Yemen Transforms its school and its environs
By Mahyoub Haza Alomari and Kate Rose
YEMEN, 18 March, 2014- Stray bullets turned the schoolyard into a battleground. Children and teachers were terrified, fearing where they would land, fearing what might happen to them. The school is right in the middle of a number of villages in Sana’a Governorate, in Central Yemen. Being so central means that it’s locally famous, everyone knows it and it's easily accessible by the whole community, including the various tribal groups living in the area.
The rehabilitated child friendly Omer bin Abdulaziz School. ©UNICEF/Yemen-2013/Vinod
But in the past people belonging to the tribes would meet near the school with their weapons, whenever there was something to discuss, like disputes, revenge or even killing. Due to the nature of these issues, there was every possibility of conflicts breaking out in the area surrounding the school.
The danger of being shot was very real, but gunfire right outside Omer Bin Abdulazis School was not always intended to be violent. If one of the tribesmen killed someone from another tribe, even by mistake, then the two tribes might agree to a compromise. When they came to the meeting point, one way of greeting, apologizing to each other or even agreeing to make peace was to shoot live bullets into the air.
Teachers and grown up students often wondered how they could stop such behaviour and make the area free of weapons. But due to fear of being attacked, they hesitated in taking action against the people with guns.
It was at such a time that the school was chosen to become a ‘child friendly school’ supported by UNICEF and the Ministry of Education. This focus meant that the school would receive help to develop in ways that encourage children’s participation in education. To become a child friendly school, a number of standards need to be met, such as safe and working toilets for boys and girls, community management of the school and enhanced training for teachers.
One of the key activities that took place for Omer bin Abdulaziz School was that parents were selected to join a father and mother council. The benefit of such a council is that as parents, they want the best for their children, and with a forum to discuss their issues, changes for the better can take place. The council members all received training and went on to work with the school staff and students as one team, calling for meetings with the tribes. Their meetings were hugely successful, and they persuaded the tribal members to put an end to the brandishing of weapons.
Today the school neighbourhood is very different. The tribal meeting point has since been moved and if community members happen to visit the school they leave their weapons outside.