Keeping schools open in Yemen

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Keeping schools open in Yemen

The salaries of Yemeni teachers stopped nearly a year ago, but they still teach their students. Sawsan al-Refaei reports.


Education even in a very difficult situation. Yemeni children in a school building damaged by a Saudi-led air strike in Taez. ©Ahmad al-Basha/AFP/Getty Images

Donya Al Hilali wakes up almost every day to the terrible sounds of air strikes and missiles close to her home. Quickly she does her morning chores and rushes to school in Taiz city. She walks on the unsafe roads so she is not late for her students.

Donya teaches in a girls school on the frontline between Houthi militias and other armed resistance groups. The government paid her salary nearly a year ago. But she is only absent when it is too dangerous for her students to come. An airstrike hit her school once and missiles fired from the ground hit her school many times. One of her students died and another was badly injured. The coalition airstrikes led by Saudi Arabia in March 2015, and the problems in Yemen between different armed groups which followed, had a terrible effect on Yemen’s education.

‘It is like a very sick child that you want to help to stay alive without help,’ says Donya. Danger is only half of the problem. Her other problems include high absence rates, not enough books, and reduced school hours. Last year she only taught half of the course, so she made the tests easier and passed all the children in the hope that they had learned enough. Another big problem is not enough food. Girls are fainting because they don’t have enough to eat.

They cannot use thousands of school buildings. All the armed groups attack school buildings. It doesn’t matter where or what political party and that other governments say it is wrong. About 2,300 schools are damaged or destroyed and they cannot use more than 1,600.

The military use school buildings for shelter and as centres for victims of cholera. Thousands of teachers and students have moved. About two million children, nearly a third of school-age children, now cannot go to school.

But Yemen’s teachers are not stopping. And 70 per cent of teachers are now working without pay. Government salaries stopped 11 months ago. ‘Many male teachers are working as market traders or builders on their days off,’ says Sahar Foad, a teacher from Sana’a. School managers cut their hours so they can find other jobs.

With no salaries, teachers are hungry too. For a while, local businesses gave them food baskets but there were not enough.

‘Teachers and their children only have one meal per day. Some no longer have enough money for healthcare and medicines – but they still go to their classes,’ says Sahr.

The UN says that eighteen months of war have left at least 10,000 dead and millions are at risk of starvation. But teachers still help their students. Where there is no school, they give classes around trees when they can. They are giving help to students traumatized by war and stopping young girls being married off or young boys being taken for child soldiers. Some bring food from their own kitchens to feed hungry students.

Without these teachers, a whole generation of children would miss their education.

Sawsan Al-Refaei works for the Arab Campaign for the Arab Campaign for Education.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have changed).