Social Empowerment for Muhamasheen
Projects such as these are part of a wider UNICEF initiative, an Integrated Model of Social and Economic Assistance and Empowerment (IMSEA)
The Muhamasheen status of those living in Dar Salm slums within the Sana’a governorate deprives them of an opportunity to receive an education, barred by a lack of financial means. Community committees and volunteers from this group, who have benefited from UNICEF’s “Comprehensive trainings on community participation”, motivate and encourage children to join school classrooms through the Education Right Initiative. This initiative is under the supervision of the Social Welfare Fund – Sana’a and supported by UNICEF. Community committees and volunteers also raise awareness among parents on the importance of saving money, safe motherhood practices, prevention of COVID-19, and the need to vaccinate children, alongside the overall importance of hygiene.
Ahmed Mansour is a member of a community committee. He contributed to numerous activities within the weekly campaigns to raise awareness among parents on the importance of hygiene, the significance of children's education, health care and tending to pregnant women, the need for household savings, and the importance of community work.
Ahmed Mansour says: “We have learned a lot from the community committees, and the Social Welfare Fund has motivated and encouraged us to come up with the steps we have undertaken. Parents have shown positive response, with our work in the community to engage workers also yielding positive results. For example, the savings process we promote has contributed to raising families’ awareness on the importance of saving money because some parents were facing emergency situations with nothing to overcome such circumstances. This will enable savers to deal with contingencies.”
To become community committee members and outreach volunteers, candidates have to be literate and attend training sessions provided by UNICEF and the Social Welfare Fund, with technical support from the Children and Youth Protection Organization.
Speaking about COVID-19, Ahmed Mansour adds: “COVID-19 is a deadly virus; therefore, we educate parents on how to prevent it by avoiding handshaking and mingling with others. We also stress the importance of sterilizing and washing hands with soap and water, as well as wearing masks. We haven’t encountered any obstacles because volunteers and community committees work closely with parents, approaching conversations with the intention of educating them and triggering positive change. They also have shared goals as all of them are hoping to send their children to school and improve lives in the community.”
Ahmed Mansour hopes that the Muhamasheen group will escape the dark and unfair life they have been experiencing and have their rights respected like other citizens.
Naseem Mohammed Ahmed Takrori, 21, was born in Anis area, Al-Sharq Mount. He lives in Dar Salm, in the Sanhan district of Sana’a. Salim works as a neighborhood headman, living in a small house with fourteen people. He also works with the Social Welfare Fund and Social Empowerment as a community outreach volunteer. He has joined the training sessions that provide him with knowledge and necessary skills in terms of community engagement projects, dealing with people, and how to raise awareness in an impactful way.
“I have learned from the training sessions how to communicate with people where I live, and how to guide them to solve problems”, Naseem says. “I also educate them on the dangers of diseases and epidemics and on methods of prevention, in addition to how to safely manage pregnancy to make sure that both mother and child are healthy. There have been significant improvements because such content was not there. For example, garbage piled in the neighborhood was a normal thing.”
After attending meetings and training sessions, Naseem realized the extent of the suffering his people endured, recognizing the harmful effects of the heavily polluted environment and inequality linked to the economic and social status of his community. After he joined the training, his misconceptions changed, which he now shares with others, starting with his own home and the local community.
Regarding his contribution to raising awareness and community initiatives in his surroundings, Naseem says, “I volunteered to work with Alawi and Hamid, and we have built a small class in the neighborhood to motivate the children. The class accommodates 110 students of both sexes because they are craving to learn and study. Many of these children were spending their day on the streets searching for empty plastic and aluminium cans to sell as scrap because their parents couldn’t afford the cost of studying. Thanks to our outreach activities, around 341 children have now enrolled in school, including Annan, who could join school only at the age of 10 because he was working on the streets to support his elderly parents.
Annan bought a notebook and pen and joined the class and he was the smartest student. Although some schools rejected him because of his age, his determination to enroll and study allowed him to catch up at record speeds. Now, he is in second grade after benefiting from the initiative on including marginalized children in schools that was conducted by volunteers and supported by UNICEF, in coordination with the Social Welfare Fund”, Naseem explains.
Naseem continued to raise awareness with parents on the dangers of COVID-19 and on prevention measures, including staying at home, avoiding overcrowded places, washing and sterilizing hands thoroughly and ensuring neighborhood cleanliness. By educating the community on the importance of living in a clean neighborhood, community committees have encouraged local populations to take regular action and clean up their area. All that Naseem hopes for the future is to have a generation of educated marginalized people. He was deprived of education himself and would not like the young generation to experience the same. The children he speaks to are inspired to become engineers, ministers, physicians, and educators. He also calls for the continued inclusion of marginalized people in classrooms across the nation.
Annan Saleh Mohammed Yahya Al-Wasabi is 12 years old and one of ten brothers living in Dar Salm, Sanhan District.
Annan says, “I would go with my brother to look for empty water and Pepsi bottles in order to provide for a lunch meal. However, the community committees and community volunteers came to motivate us – me and three of my brothers, to enroll in schools, so I could learn how to read and write at the age of 10. The school asked us to pay 1,000 riyals a month, so I go to look for empty bottles after school so that I can pay the fees and continue studying until I become a doctor. I thank the Welfare Fund and UNICEF for the monthly allowance and for helping us to enroll in the school.”
Alawi Mahmoud Al-Dushiash, 21, from a slum area in Dar Salm, lives with his ten family members, works as a farmer and has some livestock. He also works as a volunteer promoter for the Welfare Fund.
“Naseem, the neighborhood headman, used to go around houses to raise awareness on the danger of diseases and the importance of education,” Alawi says. “He was the one who offered to open a class to motivate children to get an education, so that they will not waste their future like us because we were deprived of education and wasted our life searching for empty water bottles. Recently, I have become literate. I used to cry when seeing children go to school, carrying their school bags on their backs while I was carrying a sack bag to collect cans from the streets. I wished that I could be a doctor or an engineer. I don’t want children in my community to suffer from the illiteracy and ignorance that we have experienced.”
Alawi feels he has lost his opportunity for education and therefore, does not want such an experience to be repeated with subsequent generations. Alawi wishes that he were determined like Annan, who started school despite of his age.
“Annan is a smart child. Although his family is poor and his parents found it difficult to enroll him in school because of his age, he was ambitious”, Alawi says. “Naseem was the promoter for Annan’s family and because Annan is smart, he will achieve his dreams and accomplish what we couldn’t do. That is because education allows the person to integrate with the community, instead of being isolated in the slums. Annan will receive the certificates that we couldn’t get and will be someone with big capabilities in the future.”
Despite missing out on quality education, Alawi has found a meaningful purpose and has benefited from the training sessions in terms of self-confidence, community service, how to be a promoter, and how to conduct field visits to raise awareness on hygiene, child immunization, and prevention of pandemics such as COVID-19. Alawi wishes that organizations would pay attention to marginalized groups across Yemen. He also thanks the Social Welfare Fund and UNICEF for their field visit to the slums to educate marginalized people, emphasizing the importance of these initiatives to the quality of life across communities.
Fatima Al-Kayal is a Community Engagement Officer with the Social Welfare Fund through UNICEF in Sana’a governorate. She is involved in trainings and meetings with field teams that include community volunteers and community committees.