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At a glance: Yemen

Life in war-torn Yemen slowly returns to normal

© UNICEF/2010/Abdulfatah
Afra’a Ahmed Ahmed Qulaiel (middle) takes her final test with her class mates at Khadija School in Sa'ada, Yemen.

By Adnan Abdulfatah

SA’ADA, Yemen, 29 July 2010 – When you walk down the Al-Shara’a Al-A’am main road to the old town of Sa’ada, through the main gate of Bab Al-Yaman and pass by the ancient mosque of Emam Al-Hadi, you are immediately drawn into the past. The town, deeply rooted in history, used to be a beacon of Islamic teaching and a symbol of tolerance. From there you idle through the small but bustling ‘souq,’ or traditional market, and into the maze of the ancient mud houses where you can literally smell the scent of history.

The area also contains a more recent and much darker story. In the old town you’ll find yourself deep in the battle area where fierce confrontations between Al-Houthi rebels and the Yemeni army and police force took place recently. Many people were killed or forced to flee. Despite finding their houses had damaged or completely obliterated, many families who returned to Sa’ada after the fighting decided to stay and try to rebuild their lives.

Life in ruins

Mohamed Hussein Al-Urkadi, 32, lives in Sa’ada with his three children. The older boys used to attend school, but Ghadeer, 6, is still too young; her education will start next year. Now living in the ruins of his family’s destroyed house, Mr. Al-Urkadi said that the family has gone through a horrible nightmare.

© UNICEF/2010/Abdulfatah
Mohamed Hussein Al-Urkadi, a resident of Sa’ada town in Yemen, with his six-year-old daughter, Ghadeer.

“We had to move from this house which our ancestors built 750 years ago,” he said. “We fled to the Rahban area, north of Sa’ada town, fearing for our lives the whole time.”

The family decided to return to Sa’ada and their long ancestral history after the fighting ended. But their house was devastated. “Only the outer walls, a few rooms and the kitchen are what remain of our home,” said Mr. Al-Urkadi.

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the conflict areas to the neighbouring governorates of Hajjah, Amran and Al-Jawf. Some decided to stay in organized camps for internally displaced people, but most live in small settlements scattered around these areas.

Back to school

In early March 2010, schools were finally re-opened. The curriculum was reduced at the behest of the Ministry of Education and Sa’ada’s school year extended to compensate for lost time. Through the local educational office, UNICEF has provided tents, black boards, school-in-a-box and recreational kits to help children continue their educations. Through the Yemeni Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour, UNICEF has also erected a large tent to provide children with psycho-social support in child-friendly spaces.

© UNICEF/2010/Abdulfatah
The home of the Al-Urkadi family was almost completely destroyed during the conflict in Sa’ada. Only the facade remains.

Afra’a Ahmed Ahmed Qulaiel, 7, is one of the estimated 3,000 displaced children that now attend schools in Sa’ada town. Afra’a lost her father in the beginning of the conflict and moved with the rest of her family from Haidan district to Sa’ada town to live with her uncles in a rented house. While she was supposed to begin studying at Khadija School in Sa’ada last year, the war made that impossible.

Today, however, Afra’a is enrolled at Khadija and it attending classes. She has received textbooks from the education office, as well other materials to help cover some of her needs. Afra’a recently took her final test with her class mates that will allow them to move to the second grade. She hopes that the war has ended once and for all so she can go back to her village to continue her education there.

WASH in schools

The infrastructural damage caused by the war has left Sa’ada residents vulnerable to waterborne diseases. To reduce this risk, UNICEF, through Al-Amal, a local implementing partner, has distributed hygiene kits and jerry cans to all families living in the old town. UNICEF has also started a WASH in schools programme, covering all 15 basic education schools in Sa’ada. The aim is to ensure that all schools have adequate child-friendly water and sanitation facilities and a hygiene education programme.

Life in Sa’ada has slowly begun to resemble something like normalcy. While the shadow of war still looms over the town, it diminishes with every step its residents take towards better life.



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