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At a glance: Yemen

A young man holds on to his dream amid violence in Yemen

By Mohammed Al-Asaadi

SANA’A, Yemen, 30 March 2011 – Ahmed Al-Sayyani, 17, is holding on to his aspirations, despite the violence in his country.

© UNICEF Yemen/2011/Mazen El Haber
Ahmed Al-Sayyani, 17, is disturbed by the political situation in his country. “I want to be able to finish school without any further delay,” he says at home in Sana'a, Yemen.

“My dream is to become a pilot,” he said. “I am working hard to score high grades so I can get a scholarship to study civil aviation abroad.”

Even before the recent uprising, Yemen’s children were no strangers to violent conflict. Clashes with militants in the north killed hundreds and displaced more than a quarter of a million people in 2009. The country is under increasing threat from southern separatists and al-Qaeda.

Ahmed wants to study in Germany.  To achieve his plan, he has a busy daily schedule. He starts the day with dawn prayers, before going to class.

Disrupted studies

“I am back home around two for lunch and a short rest before I do my homework and read my lessons,” he said. “As the drums of demonstrators get louder around seven, I go out and watch them dance.”

The current unrest is now a constant in Ahmed’s life. He spends his evenings chatting with his friends – both near and far – on Facebook, and browsing the Internet.

VIDEO: 28 March 2011 - UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on how young children are coping as political unrest escalates in Yemen.  Watch in RealPlayer


Although he doesn’t support either side in the conflict, he keeps up to date with the latest developments.  After watching the news about the 18 March massacre in Sana’a – in which 52 anti-government protesters were shot dead and several hundred injured – Ahmed was unable to sleep. The unrest is also affecting his education.

“I am for peace and stability,” he said. “I want to be able to finish school without any further delays. I’ve already lost a week of schooling, and my grades were affected in last week’s exams.”

Longing for peace

Ahmed is just one of many Yemeni children who refuse to give up their hopes that their right to live in peace will be fulfilled. Late last year, the United Nations invited children from all over the world to voice their opinions on international peace and security.

The interactive event – ‘Your World, Your Future: Voices of a New Generation’ – was hosted by US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. Three young people got the rare opportunity to speak to the world on behalf of Yemen.

“We don’t want wars. We want peace,” said Bashir Shalili. Hadil Mouafak and Sleiman Sinan added they wanted security and happiness for all the children in their country.

© UNICEF Yemen/2011/ Mazen El Haber
Ahmed spends several hours a day online discussing current affairs with his friends. “I connect via Facebook, especially with friends who can’t visit me for security reasons,” says the high school student, who lives in Sana'a, Yemen.

But since they made the video, the situation in Yemen has become even more violent.

At least 20 per cent of the victims of the civil unrest in Yemen have been children, according to the Organization of Childhood Protection SEYAJ, UNICEF’s local non-governmental organization partner in Yemen. Many have been injured, and countless more will probably end up with psychological scars.

Daily struggle

Ahmed, who lives close to the uprising, worries about his family. Their 100-year-old home overlooks the square where government loyalists have erected large tents.

“I am getting used to the noise of the loudspeakers in the sit-in area,” said Ahmed as the sound of the Yemeni national anthem blared through the house’s windows.

Ahmed loves football, but cannot play. “The field is too far from home,” he said, “and because our house is near the square, my friends are not allowed to come visit me. I feel isolated.”

He hopes the situation changes for the better soon. “My friends and I should be studying and playing, without having to worry about politics or conflict. I only want a better and safe future for myself,” Ahmed said.



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