By Ansar Rasheed*
In May 2015, while hostilities escalated in Yemen, 16-year-old Ahmed was conscripted to fight with one of the parties to the conflict. After months of being on the frontlines, he fled and returned home. Now he’s resuming his education and working hard to catch up on the schooling he missed.
©UNICEF Yemen 2016/Abdulbaki
ADEN, Yemen (UNICEF) – The room was silent and dark except for the small dim light of a rechargeable lamp in the corner where 16-year-old Ahmed (^) was reading his books.
Since Yemen plunged into a brutal conflict in March 2015, electricity has been severely affected throughout the country, including Crater district in the southern Governorate of Aden where Ahmed lives.
Ahmed sat quietly, bending over his books. He was studying for his end-of-year school exams. His mother bought the rechargeable lamp to help him catch up on lost school time during the conflict. Ahmed said he is determined to continue his studies.
> Read the UNICEF report: Children on the Brink
The conflict threatened not only his education, but also his life. In May 2015, as the fighting intensified in Aden, Ahmed said a group of young men knocked on his door one night.
When he opened, they threw a gun at him and told him to act like a man and follow them. Confused and angry, he had no option, for he was powerless at that moment. Instead of being in school, he found himself dodging bullets fighting a war not of his making.
Until now, Ahmed could not remember – or rather did not want to remember – the horrific events he witnessed while was fighting.
The sound of heavy weapons, bullets flying all around him, and the long journeys he made on an empty stomach are some of the terrible experiences he reluctantly mentioned.
All that time, Ahmed didn’t give up his dreams to return to normal life and back to school. In December of last year, he sneaked out of the military camp and returned to his family. As he made his journey back home, he recalls seeing other young boys who are still with the fighters.
Back to school
“I came across several security checkpoints manned by skinny boys of my age and younger, all carrying weapons heavier than their own bodies”, he said. “I could see fear in their eyes. I know very well what fear means, and how it feels.”
His parents have been supportive. They welcomed him back home with open arms and are helping him with his education.
Ahmed’s mother said that when her son was conscripted and during the period he was gone, she cried and prayed for his return. Now that he is back home, she will do everything to help him continue his education and achieve his dreams.
Proudly presenting his previous school marks, Ahmed showed that he had done well in school so far.
One of his teachers, who identified himself as Mr. Adel, confirmed Ahmed’s very good performance in his class. Mr. Adel said he was proud to have Ahmed back in school and described him as a “hardworking and polite student”.
Now settled back at his home, Ahmed could not imagine having to go back. “We have to say no to war”, he said. “Enough is enough.”
Since the conflict escalated in Yemen in March 2015, the UN has documented and verified more than 1,000 children who have been recruited by the parties to the conflict. UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Education to rehabilitate schools and provide learning and teaching materials across the country, so that children can resume and continue their schooling.
>> Learn more about the humanitarian needs of the children of Yemen
(^) name has been changed to protect his identity