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Live for today, hope for tomorrow in Yemen

UNICEF Yemen/2017
© UNICEF Yemen/2017
Malak, now in grade 2 holds a doll given to her at a UNICEF supported child friendly center in Ibb governorate.

By: Peter Tubman and Tahani Saeed

IBB, Yemen, 15 November 2017 - Mansour and Mariyam are parents to 13 beautiful children, and were forced to flee Taiz when the roof of their house was destroyed in an explosion.

Mansour is trying to explain to me what it is like to flee from your home and try to start a new life: "Imagine you have to live with 25 percent of what you used to have before the war. It's better than nothing, but it is so difficult".

The conflict in Yemen started in March 2015 and continues to exact the greatest toll on ordinary people. Many of those caught up are forced to flee not just once but multiple times, as the whirlwinds of war oscillate and fling them out in unfamiliar territory. The city of Taiz, in the south of Yemen, could easily be described as the eye of this particular storm.

UNICEF previously met the family at the start of 2016 when they were living in a temporary shelter in Ibb, located in a valley 60 kilometres from Taiz by car. At the time, temporary shelters were quickly set up schools, forcing children into bigger classrooms to accommodate the influx. The school buildings were not ready for such a flood of people, and the family shared a classroom with eight other families.

Back in January Mariyam was thankful for the initial humanitarian assistance they had received, but pleaded for more long-term support, saying they needed "cleaner toilets, rations, and a proper space to live in"

When UNICEF catches up with them this time, the family have moved into a single-roomed house in a small informal camp in the city. The camp, supported by UNICEF and its partners with education and sanitation services, is home to 80 families from conflict-affected cities like Taiz, Sana'a and Aden. 

UNICEF Yemen/2017
© UNICEF Yemen/2017
A child shows her class work during a learning session at a UNICEF supported school in Ibb governorate.

We wonder how they manage to cope, with so many mouths to feed. Mariyam says that indeed it is hard, but after months of begging for scraps from restaurants Mansour managed to take a small loan from a local businessman, and sells eggs, sweets and chocolates. They pay back the loan in small chunks whenever they can.

Mariyam is proud to say that all seven of her school-aged children are now going to school. But it has not been without a struggle. Previously Mariyam spoke of how she had been so scared for the safety of her children, saying she would "rather stay here in this little corner than head back to Taiz". Education opportunities were extremely limited, with the entire school being used as a shelter. Mariyam and her children longed for a proper space to live in.

"Our children are happier now they are not living in the school. Before they used to be afraid even of fireworks, but now they all want to go to school and learn. Three of my daughters didn't want to go to school when we first arrived here, but now all of them are going."

Malak is now in Grade 2, having just come top of her year. The achievement is all the more amazing considering she missed half of the last academic year. Having taken catch-up classes with school bags and kit, and PSS activities sponsored by UNICEF, her prize for working so hard was a doll - now her most prized possession.

The school, and indeed the wider community, have responded with incredible compassion. For all anyone knows, the conflict could one day force these people to flee, and they understand the need to look after those who currently have nothing. The teachers at Malak's school have crowd-sourced some money to pay for new uniforms, school books and a daily breakfast for the displaced students.

Malak hopes to be a teacher when she is older - perhaps inspired by the kindness of her teachers. Mansour seems happy with this answer. He tells me he has one simple hope, which could be said of any parent anywhere: "We hope our children have a better life than us." 



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