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Asma’a and Ibtisam: Climbing mountains of hope in Yemen


“I prepare my bag in the morning and I walk through the mountains to reach the nearby villages,” Asma’a is a community health worker in Sana’a governorate, Yemen.
©UNICEF Yemen/2018/ Taha Hassan Al-Mahbashi

By Marie Bracquemont, Reports Officer, UNICEF Yemen

Yemen, 12 June 2019 – Ibtisam Essam Naji Al-Shoumi and Asma’a Mohammed Al-Sewedi don’t know each other. Although they live 200 kilometres apart, they share the same dreams. They both live in remote villages of Yemen and care for their communities, that they are determined to serve in the best way they can.

“I feel that my work has a profound impact on my community. The more I visit people, the more I realize that they are better aware of their health and this gives me a strong motivation and enough self-confidence to keep working as a community health worker,” Ibtisam says. The 24-year-old woman lives in Al-Safeef village in Hajjah governorate and she recently joined the community health worker network operating in her area.

Asma’a, who is from the mountainous village of Al-Arq in Sana’a governorate, wants also to see her community healthy. “What makes me happy is to save people. When I see the smile of a child who is getting better, I know that I will continue doing that, despite all the difficulties,” she says.


Ibtisam educating women of the nearby villages on hygiene and sanitation practices. ©UNICEF Yemen/2019/ Taha Hassan Al-Mahbashi

A dream coming true

After graduating from high school, Ibtisam couldn’t find a job in her village. She was dreaming of pursuing a career in the medical field, but she didn’t have another choice than to stay at home without employment. “I decided to help the women in my village to get to know more about their health, so I gathered them in front of my house to provide them with more information and advices,” says Ibtisam with determination in her eyes. Soon, Ibtisam’s dream came true when the local health office informed her that she had been selected to become a community health worker. “I was so thrilled when I got accepted and I learned so much during the training in Sana’a.”

Asma’a also started by supporting the villagers voluntarily but it was too costly for her to visit all the remote areas. “UNICEF helped me with the transportation and it helped me to keep serving my community,” Asma’a stresses.


Asma’a’s village is located on the top of a mountain and she walks for several hours every day to reach nearby villages and visit her patients. ©UNICEF Yemen/2018/ Taha Hassan Al-Mahbashi

Walking to save lives

Asma’a’s village is located on the top of a mountain, 3 hours away from the main road and the nearest health centre. She has a small clinic there where she can receive patients and stock the medicines she needs for her household visits. There is no public transportation in the area and it can take hours to walk to the closest village.

Hamdi Hussein Al-Sewedi is a father of three and lives in the same village. He comes regularly to bring his children to Asma’a, so she can examine them and make sure they don’t suffer from malnutrition. “Before, when there was no health worker in our village, we used to walk for hours to reach the health centre and this was putting the lives of our children at risk,” Hamdi recalls, relieved now that the situation has improved.


In her small clinic, Asma’a receives the villagers and gives them medicines, providing them with basic healthcare. ©UNICEF Yemen/2018/ Taha Hassan Al-Mahbashi

Asma’a is particularly appalled by the situation that expected mothers have to face. “The health centre is so far away and they are carried on a stretcher through rocky paths for hours to reach it. I want to gain more skills to be able to help them when giving birth.”

In another part of the country, Ibtisam faces the same situation. “I leave my house early in the morning. I walk sometimes two to three hours per day on mountain paths to reach the most remote village. It is not easy, but I am always welcomed by the villagers with a warm smile,” tells Ibtisam.

“When I examine a child, I first register all his information and then I take his measurements. If I notice any signs of severe malnutrition, I ask the mother to bring the child to the medical center in Al-Dhafeer city, but if the child is fine, I thank the mother for taking a good care of her child’s health,” Ibtisam tells.


Ibtisam taking baby Safa’s measurements to assess her nutrition status. If Safa’s case is severe, Ibtisam will refer her to the nearest health centre.
©UNICEF Yemen/2019/ Taha Hassan Al - Mahbashi

Hope for a better future

Ibtisam wishes the women and children of her village to lead a disease-free life. “Children in my village still suffer from schistosomiasis (a disease caused by parasitic worms), acute diarrhea, malnutrition and common childhood illnesses, such as flu and skin diseases. “They need medical care and because the nearest health facility is far away from our village, they cannot always be treated on time but as a community health worker, I can make the difference,” she adds.

"Before joining the training, I used to see people suffering without being able to help them. Now, I can treat common illnesses, vaccinate children and take blood pressure for pregnant women,” Asma’a says, adding “I wish to learn more about reproductive health, so I can help the mothers better and I hope that one day, a health unit will be established in my village.”


Thanks to Ibtisam, many children like Safa are given a chance to grow healthy in the village of Al-Safeef in Hajjah.
©UNICEF Yemen/2019/ Taha Hassan Al - Mahbashi

There are currently more than 1,800 community health workers in Yemen, that have been trained by the local health authorities with the support of UNICEF and the European Union. The community health workers offer services which include immunization, screening and referral for childhood illnesses and malnutrition. And their contribution in better health outcomes for children and empowerment of women are eye seeing. So far, 639,000 under five children received health services, including malnutrition screening and treatment and more than 353,000 pregnant and lactating women were reached with maternal health and newborn care services, thanks to the joint UNICEF-EU project. 

 

 
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