My family is from Yemen, going back ten generations into a country that gave us so much promise but has now been left in pieces. Being the country manager of the Muslim Hands Yemen office for over a year and residing in the UK, my time is split between both countries. Each visit over the past six years has been overcome with sadness, tears, and heartbreak. The man-made catastrophe has not spared anyone. Many of my friends have lost someone from either the conflict, through starvation or diseases like cholera and coronavirus.
I have been working in the charity sector for nearly five years, and I supported the opening of Muslim Hands’ first Yemen office last year in the temporary capital of Aden. We’ve been working closely to coordinate with the UN and cluster NGO’s on a weekly basis, carrying out needs assessments and implementing projects in 18 of the 22 governates in Yemen.
With a total of 25 staff who speak both English and Arabic, the need for our work is great. We are therefore planning to open two more offices in Marib and Seiyoun, to reach out to as many people as possible.
Through the generosity of our donors in Ramadan, Muslim Hands will be be able to implement projects worth more than one million pounds over the next six months. This includes projects in food security, child protection, education, WASH and health. This article will reflect on our work on the ground and outline our emergency response.
It was heart-warming to see over 1,000 emergency food parcels distributed to Yemeni families during Ramadan. We bought the food from the local market, making it quicker to access and distribute. Each parcel contained the basic items to feed a family for the whole month.
But we urgently need even more emergency food parcels to fight starvation in Yemen. According to the World Food Program, 15.9 million people in Yemen wake up hungry every day. Food insecurity has sky-rocketed this year more than any other. Funding cuts from the UN and other NGOs are highly possible – this will be a disaster that could leave 5.5 million vulnerable Yemenis without aid.
Growing up in Yemen, it was unheard of to see people digging through rubbish bins to try and find their next meal. But this is now a daily occurrence. Desperation outweighs dignity - this behaviour becoming the new normal.
We are establishing a bread factory in Aden which will provide 6,000 loaves each day to 3,000 beneficiaries over the next six months. If the project is received well this will be rolled out in other areas including Lahj, Abyan and Taiz. Our emergency food parcels will continue to be distributed, of course, supporting around 8,400 beneficiaries across Yemen.
Furthermore, we will continue feeding schoolchildren in Yemen. Many breadwinners in Yemen only make 50p a day; because of this, parents push their children to attend school so they can have at least one nutritious meal a day. Muslim Hands will establish a school feeding programme to provide breakfast to 2,000 students in Aden and Lahj.
For five years, the conflict in Yemen has been damaging and destroying schools, leaving two million children out of education. To keep children in education, tents were set up in some locations, intended to give children a secure place for learning. But these tents were destroyed by harsh weather.
Without schooling, Yemeni children will become a lost generation, deprived not only of a secure and healthy present, but also deprived of a future. Muslim Hands is planning to build six mobile class units for displaced children in Abyan and Marib, which will support 420 children in each city. Their schools have been destroyed and these mobile classes will provide children with some sense of normality in a country destroyed by conflict.
Only 51% of health centres in Yemen are functional. There is a lack of basic equipment like thermometers, ventilators, and PPE. There are only ten health workers for every 10,000 people in Yemen. There are only two testing sites for COVID-19 in the entire country.
All of this means that Yemen’s health system is severely strained. It is unable to cope with the spread of diseases such as cholera, dengue fever, malaria and now coronavirus.
With your donations, we will provide £210,000 worth of medical equipment, medication and PPE to mobile clinics and hospitals in Hadhramaut, Lahj, Taiz, Marib and Aden to support those that are vulnerable.
Your support has enabled us to plan our largest WASH project in Yemen so far: constructing a water well for 25,000 beneficiaries. The well will be constructed in the Al-Habilain area of the Radfan district, pumping clean water into residential homes. The project will begin at the end of June and will take seven weeks to complete.
Water is life. Access to this vital resource will make a vast difference to the people of Yemen. Being on the ground, we witness many incidents which remind us that you are helping people immeasurably. I remember seeing a man walk 27km through the desert with a bucket in his hand hoping to fill it with water from a well. I went with him and, when we got to the well, it wasn't working. Simply because of a malfunctioning well, the man would leave with nothing.
For this reason, the five wells we’ve constructed so far are solar-powered. Water is thus available to people around the clock. We’ve set up local committees, so that people are educated in well maintenance, guaranteeing clean water to communities for the long haul. Our team also visits each well every six months to make sure they're fully functioning.
Each well typically benefits 2,000 to 8,000 people, depending on its size and the number of people in the community. The Al-Habilain well is our largest so far, helping 25,000 beneficiaries.
Our upcoming plans include restoring water wells in various camps and villages to support 75,000 beneficiaries in Lahj, Marib, Shabowa, Al Dhale’e and Taiz. These wells will mean people don’t have to walk for miles just for a bucket of water. They will truly transform the lives of thousands.
Since I work on the ground, I have the opportunity to meet the people you’re helping and see the reality of the situation. I always leave feeling I could do more. Our team continue to work even on their days off, feeling a sense of responsibility to be the helping hand that so many desperately need in Yemen.
The work we are delivering is only a small percentage of what needs to be done, but I am always left feeling reassured through the generosity of donors like you. Your actions show that supporting Yemen and its people is a collective duty.
I have seen countless times beneficiaries not being able to comprehend the compassion from donors who have provided them with life-saving aid. The praise and thankfulness that come from the mouths of our beneficiaries towards the donor is boundless. Without you, your time and your generosity, Yemen would have been in a far darker place than it is now.
With everything in life, there is always hope. As long as we keep Yemen on our lips, their struggle will never be forgotten.