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I’m back at school to fight illiteracy

UNICEF Yemen/2017/Jassar
© UNICEF Yemen/2017/Jassar
Anhar Essa – sitting in the fourth row, first one on the right- attending one of the 9th grade intensive classes.

By Saba Jassar

Sa’ada, Yemen, 28 September 2017 – Fifteen-year-old Anhar Essa is attending one of the intensive Grade 9 courses in Al-Tawheed School in Sa’ada city in northern Yemen. When the schools reopened in Sa’ada city, her family returned home. They had fled the area when the conflict began in March 2015, and Anhar likes being back in her home town after all this time. In 2015, all schools in Sa’ada were closed and the governorate was declared a military zone. The whole community of Sa’ada, including parents, children and teachers were forced to scatter to other governorates, disrupting livelihoods, households, and crucially, education. “I’m very happy to come back to school and my family is supporting me a lot. One of the conflict’s targets is to make our community illiterate and we will not let that happen,” Anhar said with a brave tone.

Throughout this period of deep uncertainty for the community, UNICEF was on the ground supporting children to continue their education in times of crisis. By the end of 2016, almost 350 schools had been re-opened, with 150,000 children able to go back to their schools.

But before schools reopened in Sa’ada, 40 community classes opened in mosques, deserted or private houses, and even shops in February and March 2016. UNICEF supported them with white boards, school bags, and water tanks. During the rest of 2016, UNICEF supported 101 schools with small start-up grants of $1,000 for each reopened school, most of which were in the rural areas of Sa’ada. Such grants were used for teaching and learning materials, solar panel systems, white boards, cleaning materials and minor maintenance of toilets and windows, based on a school plan of top priorities compiled by each school.

Anhar Essa is one of those female students who came back to education. “The maintenance of the school encouraged me to come back to school. It also helped me and my family to come back to the normal life although the bombings were still there but we got the courage to return back home and continue our normal life,” Anhar Essa said.

Motivated by this support, communities and local authorities reopened more schools. UNICEF continued supporting schools with 119 tents installed around collapsed buildings that were being used as temporary learning space. These tents also received about 300 white boards, and 25,000 school bags for students. In October 2016, UNICEF provided capitation grants for 55 additional schools, $2,500 for each school for minor rehabilitation following a rapid needs assessment and school plan from each school. Some communities contributed more funds and made great change in the school environment. One such fund, created by the Mohammed Al-Durrah School, raised an additional YER 100,000. In addition, major rehabilitation of 10 schools started in 2016.

UNICEF Yemen/2017/Jassar
© UNICEF Yemen/2017/Jassar
Al-Tawheed School, one of the 55 rehabilitated schools by UNICEF in Sa’ada.

Al-Tawheed school for girls is one of the schools that reopened in February 2016, and offers basic and secondary education. The number of students that time was 900, then in August 2016, it increased to 1,900 students after it was rehabilitated with UNICEF support. It now has water, cleaning materials, a solar panel system and major structural rehabilitation including computer lab maintenance.

Anhar was happy speaking about the recreational activities she is enjoying with her friends and the repairs done in the school. Before there was no drinking water. Now, there’s one water tank. “We were suffering from thirst, now we are not,” Anhar Essa said. “The most encouraging for me to attend the school is to make my dream come true to be a media person like my father,” she added.

UNICEF’s continued support helped in re-activating the management levels from schools to Governorate Education Office and local authorities, bringing displaced communities children and teachers back to schools, and normalizing all aspects of life. “As the conflict started, the ex-principal of school and most of the teachers were displaced to other areas. The school was damaged due to the nearby bombings. Therefore, when the school was reopened in 2016, we started from scratch. In the beginning, I was almost alone handling this school as all teachers were displaced outside of Sa’ada, so I got support from contracted teachers,” Ms. Jamila Al-Sulaihi, the school principal said.

“Now sometimes, even if there are bombings, the students come to school. The presence of the recreational activities helps them a lot to be committed to attend school,” Ms. Jamila Al-Sulaihi, the school manager added. 

UNICEF is supporting parents, their children and also teachers to overcome the fear of bombings, to come back to their homes to normalize their life, and to encourage parties to the conflict to respect the right of children to education.

In Yemen, nearly 7.7 million children are of school age, but last year two million of them were out of school. Since the conflict started in March 2015, 1,745 schools have been either damaged or used as collective shelters, and 695 schools have been closed. When the new academic year starts, many children will be able to continue their education through UNICEF’s provision of temporary learning spaces and community classes. UNICEF is also rehabilitating 754 schools by installing and upgrading latrines, ensuring distribution of school bags, providing desks for children, and psychosocial support for children and teachers. UNICEF is also supporting departments in the Ministry of Education to facilitate national exams at basic and high school levels.



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