We recently spoke to hundreds of families across Yemen, to understand how Covid-19 was affecting them. Shockingly, a quarter have lost their incomes entirely, and three in every four families have seen their work opportunities suffer a devastating blow.
The right tools for the job
Adel Ali became an electrician in 2014, just before the war in Yemen broke out. The violent conflict decimated job opportunities nationwide, but Adel has been lucky. His skills have stayed in demand, because of the need to rebuild and repair so many damaged buildings.
There was just one problem. “Electricians need a drill, ladders and other equipment,” he explained. But Adel could not afford these tools. “I lost many opportunities for work as a result.”
Then, last year, Adel got the chance he needed. As one of 155 people selected for a special project by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in his village, he was given training to develop a business plan and budget, and a small grant to make it a reality.
Adel knew exactly what he would spend his grant on: the right tools for his job. “Now I can work easily and I have attracted more customers,” he says.
Even during Covid-19, he has managed to keep growing his small business, to the point that he is now taking on more staff. When we spoke to him recently, he shared the good news: “I’m training up some promising electricians who are working with me now. I believe in self-employment and I encourage others to build their own skills that allow them to depend on themselves.”
It is a business that, one day, he hopes to pass on to his own family. “I hope that my children become electricians like me, because it is a good job.”
From sandwich-maker to shop-owner
“My husband was the breadwinner for the family,” explains Asma Abdullah Saleh, a mother of three. Her husband had been hiring himself out as a labourer. But then his work dried up, leaving the family struggling.
Unable to watch her children going hungry, Asma decided to act.
First, she started a small lunch business from her home. “I prepared sandwiches for my children to sell to the students in the nearest school.”
Asma had some experience in hairdressing, so she tried that too. Unfortunately, weddings – the main source of hairdressing demand – happened rarely in her small village. “I tried different jobs, including sewing dresses,” Asma explains.
But even with the whole family helping out, it wasn’t enough. “We used to buy food daily with the money that was available. We couldn’t afford to buy for the week,” she recalls. Asma was also worried that her children’s education was suffering because of the time spent selling sandwiches.
Then Asma was selected to receive the same training as Adel Ali. “NRC asked me to dedicate a room in my house to establishing my own small project,” she recalls. “I used to have some jewellery, so I sold it and built a small room, and started my little shop.”
At first, Asma was only able to sell the most basic items to her customers, as the shop was very small. But the training also came with a grant.
Asma explains: “I was able to buy more goods and my shop became larger than before. Nowadays, when a customer requires an item, I can buy it from the market and sell it to them.”
Though small, Asma’s shop quickly became the family’s main source of income. “I feel happy that I can provide my family with enough food. And I feel even happier that my children attend school now just to study, and don’t have to sell sandwiches anymore.”
Covid-19 has been devastating for many markets and job sectors, but the relatively isolated location of Asma’s village has worked in her favour, with few cases reaching their area. In recent months business has remained good, and she has been able to add more stock lines than before.
“It is true that the shop is better now,” she acknowledges, “but I’m still working hard to make it even larger!”
This project was funded by the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs, as part of NRC’s efforts to provide more sustainable and long-term solutions to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. We also provide frontline emergency support to families in need of live-saving assistance. Read about our work to support victims of the recent flooding in Yemen here.