Rahma, 32, teaches Arabic at the Yemen Al-Mustaqbal School in Sana’a’s Bani Al-Harith district. She has been a teacher for the last seven years. Her original salary was modest but allowed her to cover daily needs and rent a home with her husband and ten-year-old son Mohammed.
Then, three years ago, everything changed. Rahma, together with thousands of other teachers and civil servants, had her salary stopped because of the conflict between the authorities in the north and the internationally recognised government. Almost overnight, over half of Yemen’s teachers were left without pay – affecting 10,000 schools and nearly 4 million children, according to Global Education Cluster figures.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is working to support teachers like Rahma. We are providing teacher incentives, training, resources and building repairs so that Yemen’s children can continue going to school.
Drawing posters to survive
Since the pay crisis, Rahma has been struggling to make ends meet and frequently has to witness her son going to bed hungry. Her husband left her, humiliated that he could not afford anything for his family. Rahma turned to her drawing skills to make some money. She started creating posters to be used in schools, for a meagre fee of around USD 1 per item.
“It’s not much, but I love doing it and it helps me make something,” Rahma explains, as she shows us her drawings. “Before the war we used to get a regular salary. It was quite low, but so were the prices. Now I sometimes borrow money to get my son a sandwich for breakfast and school stationery. I want to keep him motivated since his father left us. I don’t want to destroy his future.”
Millions of children need help
The Global Education Cluster estimates that 4.7 million boys and girls need educational assistance across Yemen, including 3.7 million who are in acute need. Support for teacher salaries is the most critical and urgent need for the upcoming school year.
Some two million children are now out of school, depriving them of an education and exposing them to greater risks of child marriage or recruitment by armed groups. About 2,000 schools have been damaged, destroyed, inhabited by displaced families or occupied by armed groups since the start of the war.
Despite all the challenges facing her, Rahma still goes to school every day to teach students.
“My motivation for coming to school is to educate and build the next generation,” she says, “and it’s not fair to let Yemeni children down because of the salary; the salary is nothing. I also want to keep my son motivated not to leave school.”
Her son Mohammed says that he is inspired by his mother’s commitment: “I am proud of my mom. She is a great teacher who spreads knowledge to the students. I want to become like her – a teacher.”
Aggression, trauma and hunger
Rahma sees first-hand how students are suffering as a result of the war. Their behaviour in class has changed over the years: some have become more aggressive, some show signs of trauma, while others go to school hungry, leaving them struggling to follow lessons.
“I remember one of my students collapsed because she had not eaten breakfast,” Rahma recalls. “Some students cannot be active in class because they eat only one meal per day. Students are also traumatised because of the war, and they cannot find a safe place to study.”
Rahma’s school is in very poor condition. Hosting more than 1,500 students, it is a rented house with no facilities or space for children to play. The classrooms are small, with few desks, and some students have to take classes on the roof because of the lack of space.
“Some of the students have to sit on the ground, some of them study on the roof under the sun,” Rahma says. “This affects their learning. Having overcrowded classrooms also means there is a fear of diseases spreading in the school.”
Rahma’s dream is to see peace return to Yemen and people resuming their normal lives. “I don’t want to see an unknown future for our children,” she says.
Read also: Rebuilding bombed schools in Yemen
More support is needed
As well as money for teachers, support is needed to provide supplies and school meals as an incentive to keep children in school. This is because families often de-prioritise education in difficult economic times and send their children out to work.
Even if families are able to send some of their children to school, it’s often the girls who miss out when resources are limited. Currently in Yemen, 36 per cent of girls are out of school compared to 24 per cent of boys.
NRC’s education programme in Yemen aims to ensure that children continue going to school. We provide teacher incentives, teacher training, repairs to old and damaged school buildings, and resources such as desks and books.
At Rahma’s school, we have built new classrooms which will provide space for 500 children in the coming school year.
How you can make a difference
Help us to support Rahma and other struggling teachers, so that they can help to provide a brighter future for Yemen’s children. You can contribute to our work in the following ways:
- Make a donation to NRC today – via our safe and easy online donation system.
- Start your own fundraising page – and invite friends and family to help you reach your target.
- Read about ten things YOU can do for the world’s refugees – and discover some creative ways that you can raise money and awareness.
For alternative ways to donate, or if you’re a US citizen looking to make a 100% tax-deductible donation, please see our Make a difference page.