The war robbed Yamama, 10, of several years of school. Now, she is back in school, and can finally smile again.
But this has not always been the case. Yamama remembers the fateful day three years ago when gunmen attacked her school in her hometown of Al-Hodeida.
Yamama and her family managed to find safety after a dramatic journey. “We fled in a car. As we drove out of town, bombs were exploding in the buildings around us. Many people were killed,” she recalls.
They sought refuge in a camp outside the town of Lahj, where they have now lived for the past three years.
“As we drove out of town, bombs were exploding in the buildings around us. Many people were killed.”
When they arrived at the camp, Yamama felt sad and despondent because she couldn’t go to school.
“We were looked down upon by the locals, and the school authorities were reluctant to open the school for the displaced children,” says Yamama’s father, Saeed Omar. “I was also out of work and couldn’t afford to pay for school supplies. But now the situation has changed.” He smiles and looks at his daughter who has just finished her school day and is doing her homework.
Two million children are not receiving an education
The situation in Yemen is described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The six-year war has forced four million people to flee their homes.
“The crisis largely affects children,” says Isaac Ooko, who leads the Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) work in the country.
“Two million children have lost the opportunity to receive an education.”
He says that supporting education in Yemen is a priority. “We must end attacks against schools, ensure teachers can earn a regular income and international donors fund education. Access to education should be a right for every Yemeni child.”
Education: “The most important investment we can make”
Malka Mohammed, 26, works as a teaching assistant for NRC in Yemen. She herself has experienced the horrors of war and seen the mental wounds it causes in children. She reminds us how important it is to invest in education for children and young people.
“If we don’t invest more in education, we risk losing an entire generation. Education ensures peace and stability and gives hope to a young generation of Yemenis.”
Attacks on schools
According to a report from the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) Yemen is among the world’s most heavily affected countries by attacks on schools, with more than 1,500 incidents between 2015 and 2019. This includes airstrikes, ground strikes, artillery, gunfire, and mortar, resulting in damaged or destroyed schools.
Military use of schools and universities have also been reported.
There are reports of children on their way to or from school being recruited and mobilised by armed groups.
New school provides hope for the future
Yamama’s father was in despair before NRC built a new school.
“I was frustrated and discouraged, but fortunately NRC got involved, and now all our children are back in school,” says Omar.
“NRC has done everything they can to help the children and provide them with school bags, books and writing material. They have even built a new school,” says Yamama’s father, Omar, and continues proudly: “Yamama loves school, and spends most of her free time at home where she does homework, reads and draws. Now, she at the top of her class.”
Now he hopes that the children can finish school and move on to higher education, and become teachers, doctors or whatever they dream of becoming.
“The children are safe at NRC’s school. The teachers are good and take care of them,” he says
New life, new friends and new future
Yamama looks forward to every new school day. She and her school friends like to get to school early, so they can play a little in the schoolyard before class starts.
“We usually have a couple of classes before lunch and a couple after lunch, before we go home. We have to watch out for careless drivers on the way to and from school.”
When Yamama is not doing homework or helping out at home, she spends time with her friends Amira and Sabreen.
“I have made new friends and I feel safe here in the camp, but I miss the home we had to leave.”
Tough start to life
Yamama’s teacher, Zahrah Amin Ahmed Mohammed, 35, says that the children have had a tough start to life.
“In the beginning, Yamama and the other children who had been displaced felt that they were not welcome at the original school. Now, after NRC built a new school, they no longer experience being bullied and discriminated against.”
This is good news in the war-torn country, where antagonism and division easily take root.
“Investing in education is one of the most important things we do. It is how we lay the foundation for both personal growth and societal development. Education helps to secure the children’s futures, both as individuals and as citizens,” says the optimistic teacher.
Loves to draw
Yamama loves to draw, and she can sit for hours with colouring pencils and her drawing pad. It is a way of dealing with all the difficulties of a life of displacement, and it also provides an outlet for her thoughts and feelings.
“When I was out of school, I was sad and cried a lot. Now I am happy, and I really enjoy going to school.”
“When I was out of school, I was sad and cried a lot. Now, I am happy, and I really enjoy going to school,” she says, and proudly shows off one of her drawings. She has drawn a large sun, shining in a nearly cloudless sky over a house with windows and curtains. In the green garden outside, she has drawn herself.
Built a new home
NRC has also built a new home for the family in the camp and provided clean water and toilets. In addition, NRC has helped the family obtain birth certificates for the children and ID papers for the parents. The family has also received cash assistance to buy food and other necessities.
Their home is simple and far too small for a family of nine, but the children now have a safe place where they can live and do homework. For ten-year-old Yamama, the new school means everything, and she is looking forward to the future.
“My dream is to become a doctor, like my cousin. Then I can help other displaced children and families,” she concludes.