Saeed Hamood with his friends on the remains of the old school that was hit by an airstrike in Dhubab, Taiz. 

Photo : Malka Mohammed / NRC

In Yemen, education comes too late for millions of children

This year, around two million school-aged children were forced to drop out of school in Yemen due to conflict and poverty. This is two times more than in 2015, when the conflict began to escalate.

Saeed Hamood is 15 years old and should be in ninth grade this year. But he’s not. He’s still in fifth grade. In Dhubab, a village in the south-west of the country, it is common for children to miss out on years of schooling.

When Saeed was still a small child, his father passed away, forcing him to work to support his family. When he turned nine, he finally got the chance to start school. But when the escalation of the conflict in Yemen reached his village he was forced to flee. This led him to miss another two years of school. “We fled because of the terrible war,” says Saeed. “I was afraid, but thank God nothing bad happened to anyone from the family or to our neighbours.”

In 2017 an airstrike hit his school in Dhubab, so when he returned to his village, there was no school for him to attend. This delayed his schooling even further.

Marwa Abdo Mohsen. She is 11 years old and studies in the 6th grade in Al-Bageh school in Al-Dhalea.

Photo : Malka Mohammed / NRC
Marwa Abdo Mohsen, 11, studies in the sixth grade in Al-Bageh school in Al-Dhalea. Photo: Malka Mohammed/NRC

Unlike boys, girls rarely have to drop out of school to work. But their schooling is also often delayed due to the conflict. Marwa, 11, was also forced to flee her home due to the conflict. “I fled my village with my brother, his wife, and their son because we were scared,” says Marwa. Because of the displacement, she lost two academic years.

Not enough teachers

For the students who are able to get to school, there may not be a teacher there to greet them. Over 170,000 teachers, or two-thirds of the teaching workforce countrywide, have not received a regular wage for four years. As a result, many teachers have changed careers, leaving a teacher shortage in places like Dhubab.

Abdo Salem Abdo Ahmed, a 27 years old teacher who lives in Al-Gahily village in Dhubab district, Taiz. He had been a volunteer teacher for three years in Al-yaqada school before NRC intervened to support them.

Photo : Malka Mohammed / NRC
Abdo Salem, from Dhubab district, Taiz. He had been selflessly volunteering as a teacher for three years in Dhubad before NRC intervened to support him. Photo: Malka Mohammed/NRC

With no professional teachers available in his village, Abdo Salem, a 27-year-old father of two, decided to step in and teach for free. He had just graduated from university and couldn’t face the children in his village losing out on more years of school because of the conflict.

But the school is surrounded by landmines, and one day, as he was walking to school with a friend, he stepped on one of them. "I lost my leg because of the explosion,” says Abdo. “But thank God nothing happened to my friends."

"I lost my leg because of the explosion, but thank God nothing happened to my friends."
Abdo Salem

That was four years ago. Abdo is now teaching with an artificial leg. He is the mathematics teacher for almost the whole school. He is loved by all his students because he treats them like they’re his own.

With the support of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is now providing incentives to courageous teachers like Abdo, both in Dhubab and Al-Dhalea districts. The volunteer teachers were tested, interviewed, and have now received essential teacher training. They have also been provided with materials such as notebooks and bags.

NRC has also built new schools next to the destroyed ones in these villages, which have been equipped with whiteboards, chairs and toilets. Students like Saeed and Marwa, who are now attending these schools built by NRC, also received schoolbags, and learning and sports games.

According to UNICEF, the number of children in Yemen facing education disruption could rise to six million.

Conflict and displacement have deprived millions of children of a typical childhood. They join schools late, or they never enroll at all. We shouldn't be leaving children behind. We must keep educating the younger generation so that they can contribute new ideas and solutions to society and help build Yemen.