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A young girls’ determination to learn in Yemen

UNICEF Yemen/2017/Ansar
© UNICEF Yemen/2017/Ansar
Hosson and her friend, Faiza read their books. She was born with albinism and says she is sometimes avoided by other children in the neighbourhood. She is one of the best performing students in her class.

By Ansar Rasheed

Aden, 10 April 2017 - Thirteen-year-old Hosson is a ninth grade pupil at 26-September School in Malla district, Aden. She loves to teach younger children math. Unlike the other children in her school, she stands out and has been bullied as a result. They call her “Al-Barsah”, which means “leper”.

Hosson does not have leprosy. She was born with albinism, a rare genetic disorder that cause the skin, hair, or eyes to have little or no color. Hosson also belongs to the Muhamasheen Community, Yemen’s marginalized minority population. People with albinism commonly have visual problems and need to protect their sensitive skin from the sun. They are often socially ostracized as the condition is misunderstood. Adults and children with albinism in Yemen are vulnerable to ridicule, discrimination and violence, and are less likely to complete schooling, get employment, and find partners to marry.

“I know I look different, a bit weird, but is it my fault? This is how God created me,” says Hosson. “I am just like you. I have feelings. People are always avoiding me. I barely have friends. Only my father understands me, supports me and encourages me to help other children to study in my neighborhood.”

Her friend and neighbor, Faiza, 12, is one of her few friends.

“Hosson is my friend, and I love her very much. She never scared me because of how she looks. She is always helping me and the other children to study. I know people call her names. It is not fair, it is cruel,” says Faiza.

Hosson is the youngest of nine siblings from a very poor family in Malla district but she loves school and gets high marks.

“When I went to school for first time, I used to cry when other children bullied me and called me “beast”. Even the teachers, they were so cruel,” says Hosson. “They would ask me to sit in the back of the class as they thought I had a contagious disease.” 

UNICEF Yemen/2017/Ansar
© UNICEF Yemen/2017/Ansar
Hosson and her father sit outside at their home in Malla, Aden. She says her father provides her full support to continue her studies and help other children in the neighbourhood.

One day, she recalls her father coming to the school to speak to the Headmaster and teachers. With tears in his eyes, he pleaded with them to treat her with respect and dignity.

“That day had a major effect on my life as a child,” says Hosson. “That day I resolved not to allow anyone to treat me badly and to stand up for myself.”

Hosson enjoys her science classes and wants to become a doctor.

“I am not going to give up my dream. I consider myself normal,” she says. “I might look different but I have the mind to think, learn and study.”

Her English teacher, Usstad Gamal, is full of praises for this brave and determined teenager.

“Hosson is a very interesting little girl. She loves studying English and she is doing well. She listens to a programme on radio that teaches English. She is clever, but she’s often alone and the people around her contributed a lot to her isolation. However, there are some who love her and don’t find her different,” says the teacher.

Her enthusiasm to develop herself and help others led her to becoming involved in a UNICEF-supported emergency programme for children affected by conflict and violence. In 2015, she was among 50 students in her school trained in peace building and psychosocial support through peer education.

“I was selected by one of my teachers to be trained in peace building and psychosocial social support. On a weekly basis, along with other trained students, we give session to our classmates on how to communicate effectively, respect each other’s views and differences, build trust and think positively. And above all, we learn to seek help when we feel depressed and unhappy,” says Hosson.

“When I look in the mirror, I see me, only me, Hosson. I will keep looking in the mirror without being sorry or feeling bad. This is how I was created and this is how I will live with it.”

 

 
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