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Nowhere to call home: A Yemeni mother’s life

UNICEF Yemen/2016
© UNICEF Yemen/2016
Um Ali and two of her children. The family has now had to flee their home twice because of the ongoing conflict in Yemen.

By Bismarck Swangin

For one mother in Yemen, escaping from her besieged hometown and building a new home in Aden offered only a temporary solution. She and her children are now displaced once again and dealing with the effects of living in the throes of conflict.

ADEN, Yemen, 1 November 2016 – For nearly a decade now, all that 42-year-old Um Ali has known is a life of displacement. She has experienced the bitterness of losing her loved ones in attacks, the deadly echoes of rocket fire and airstrikes and the daily trauma that accompanies displacement.

Originally from Abyan in the southern part of Yemen, Um Ali’s life has been severely impacted by the current and previous conflicts in the country.

Eight years ago, she and her husband and children were uprooted from their home in Abyan when clashes between rival armed groups almost breached the safety of their home. The family fled farther south to Aden which was calm at the time.

She then began to build a new life and home for her children.

© UNICEF Yemen/2016
The family's temporary shelter in the outskirts of Aden cannot withstand harsh weather and floods when it rains..

Displaced again and again

Eight years later in 2015, when Yemen’s conflict escalated, Aden witnessed some of the heaviest shelling and bombardment. Um Ali’s hopes of a home away from home were instantly dashed. Again, she found herself on the run to save her life and that of her children.

This time, the conflict claimed the life of her husband who had been the family’s sole bread winner. With tears in her eyes, she recalls the day her husband was killed when their house was hit by a rocket. She and the children were taking shelter at a neighbour’s house and that was how they survived. They had to flee. There was no time to even give her husband a decent burial.

“Since then, the image of death and the feeling of displacement have been my constant companions,” she says.

The tragic death of her husband was followed by the discovery that her son, 12-year-old Ali, had become mentally ill. Um Ali is convinced that his condition is the result of the trauma of witnessing numerous atrocities and the death of his father. Ali is now mute – he does not talk unless approached, and all that he remembers is his family’s destroyed house in Aden and how they had to leave.

The family now lives in the outskirts of Aden in a temporary shelter that cannot withstand harsh weather. “When it rains, the entire floor of the house is flooded and we have to stand until the water recedes,” Um Ali says. “During the summer the heavy winds sometimes leave the ramshackle structure in shreds and we have to patch it up again.”

They fled with nothing and live on nothing. She says they are living day by day, not knowing where their next meal will come from. She and her five children are dependent on the generosity of the neighbours and the local mosque.

“We don’t have a life of our own. Only Allah knows for how long we can live this way,” she says, pointing to the sky.

She prays for peace to return so that she can go back to her home in Aden, organize a funeral for her husband and embark on a new life as the ‘father and mother’ of her children.

UNICEF Yemen/2016
© UNICEF Yemen/2016
Um Ali's 12-year-old son Ali has recently become mute. She is convinced that his condition is the result of the trauma of witnessing numerous atrocities and the death of his father.

Keeping hope alive

“I will not give up for the sake of my children,” she says. “Their father sacrificed for them until the time of his death. I will do the same.”

Although the education of her children has been disrupted, they hope to start school again. She says that she will do anything for her children to shake off the impact of the conflict and fulfil their dreams. “So long as you are alive, there must be hope.”

Um Ali’s story is the same as many mothers in Yemen who are struggling to survive away from home because of the ongoing conflict.

To support mothers like her, UNICEF is helping children get back to school through the Back-to-School campaign, which helps rehabilitate damaged schools, provides children with stationery and trains teachers on psychosocial support.

Health outreach programmes are also being conducted, bringing essential health care to the door steps for mothers like Um Ali and her children. In Aden, UNICEF is rehabilitating the water connections to ensure civilians have adequate safe water.

While UNICEF’s support is crucial, what is needed most is an end to the conflict, so that Yemenis can rebuild their lives once and for all.



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