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At a glance: Yemen

In Yemen, eager to learn, despite the fighting

By Abdullah Modhesh and Kate Rose

Displaced by conflict not once but twice, a young girl in Yemen strives to keep up with her education.

SANA’A, Yemen, 25 September 2015 – Rahaf Mohamed Saeed and her family lived very close to her school in the southern Yemeni city of Taiz. “She was one of the most active fifth grade students in her school,” her father says, remembering a different time.

© UNICEF Yemen/2015/Mahyoub
Rahaf Mohamed Saeed and her family were displaced twice by the continuing conflict in Yemen, first from their home and then from her uncle’s village, where they had sought refuge.

The school was in Al-Mwasalat street, which became the scene of some of the fiercest street fighting in the city earlier this year when conflict engulfed the country.

Almost 2 million children have been unable to continue their education, as nearly 3,600 schools across the country have been closed due to the conflict, including Rahaf’s school. The suspension didn't dampen the family’s spirits, though. Hopeful that the fighting would stop soon, they continued to live in their once-cheerful home, praying for a return of normalcy to the city.

But in mid-April, a military tank took position in front of the family home. It began shelling towards the other side of the town, and sometimes at nearby streets. Like more than 1.4 million other Yemenis, the family had to flee their home. They headed for Sabir mountain, where they stayed with Rahaf’s uncle.

Despite the many challenges, the family integrated as much as they could with the village community. Rahaf, being a cheerful and social 11-year-old girl, joined her cousins at the village school as an ‘observer’.

“It wasn’t as nice as my school. It had no bathroom or canteen, and there was no chair for me,” she says. “But it was better than staying at home.”

Finding solutions

UNICEF has been working closely with the Ministry of Education to provide solutions for children like Rahaf, who have been displaced from their homes and had their schooling interrupted.

Schools have been instructed to accept displaced students even if their school credentials are missing. So Rahaf was able to sit for the grade 5 final exams.

“I was happy that I wouldn’t miss a year, but I don’t have a certificate now. No one gave me my grades,” Rahaf says.
Soon after Rahaf finished her exams, the situation in the village drastically changed with an eruption of fighting.

“Tanks appeared again in front of my uncle’s house, and shelling continued throughout the day and night,” Rahaf says, remembering how the shelling shook the house and made her scared. When the family was in their home in Taiz, she felt that her father would know how to save them, but now they were not as strong. Not only tanks, but this time rockets were falling nearby, and a house very close by was damaged. 

© UNICEF Yemen/2015/Mahyoub
A family in Taiz City flees from street fighting and shelling. Over 1.4 million people are estimated to have been displaced from their homes since the escalation of conflict in March.

Many families left the village this time. For Rahaf’s family, it was the second time they were displaced. There was no place to go to but to the city they had fled. Unable to go to their home, the family joined other displaced families who took shelter in a school.

The use of schools as shelter for displaced families is not new to Yemen. It has been a common practice during localized conflicts over the past few years and poses a serious challenge to children’s education, both among those displaced and for the children who once attended school there. Events in Yemen over the past few months have only made the situation worse.

UNICEF is working with the Government to help organize catch-up classes for those who have missed their education, and encourage as many children as possible to return to school for the new school year.

Approximately 600,000 students were unable to take their exams because their schools were closed. UNICEF and the Ministry of Education have assisted around 65 per cent of grade 9 and 12 candidates to take their national exams. With the education system interrupted by the conflict, UNICEF has stepped in to provide crucial technical and logistical support, including the printing and distribution of exam papers, their distribution and supervision. 



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