Yemen: Working to Assist Those Fleeing the Same War She Escaped Four Years Ago


Human Wrongs Watch

By Thale Jenssen*

20 March 2019 (Norwegian Refugee Council)*“Every day, I heard stories of how people had been killed. I was particularly afraid during those early morning hours when the airstrikes began.” NRC’s education assistant Malka, 26, tells about delivering aid among landmines and airstrikes in her home country of Yemen.
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“Education is so important, and that’s why we try to support young Yemenis to create a better life for themselves, and a future,” says Malka Mohammed, 26. As an NRC education assistant in southern Yemen, her job is to make sure children living amid conflict can still access school. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC

Yemeni citizens are killed or injured every day – while cooking the family dinner at home in their kitchen, while driving their daughters and sons to school, while taking the bus to work, while doing their daily shopping at the market, while working on their farm.

Landmines, airstrikes, lack of food and medical help, the list of threats in Yemen putting thousands of lives at risk is long. And delivering aid is no easy mission.

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In and around the southern Yemeni city of Aden, the traces of war are everywhere: buildings and bridges have been destroyed by airstrikes and snipers. Homes, schools and hospitals continue to be destroyed by all sides of the conflict. Of the 3,362 air raids reported in Yemen last year, 420 hit residential areas, according to Yemen Data Project. On average, it is estimated that 600 civilian structures are damaged or destroyed every month. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC


A living nightmare

In and around the southern Yemeni city of Aden, the traces of war are everywhere: buildings and bridges have been destroyed by airstrikes and snipers. Homes, schools and hospitals continue to be destroyed by all sides of the conflict. Of the 3,362 air raids reported in Yemen last year, 420 hit residential areas, according to Yemen Data Project. On average, it is estimated that 600 civilian structures are damaged or destroyed every month.

Four years ago, Malka and her family used to live in one of those buildings. She remembers March of 2015 well and how it turned from being a joyful month of celebrations and weddings into a living nightmare.

She was working as an English teacher in her home city of Aden when one day a colleague ran to her classroom, knocked madly on the door and shouted: “They’re attacking the city!”

“We evacuated the school. There was a lot of confusion. There was shooting everywhere,” she recounts.

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Malka remembers March of 2015 well and how it turned from being a joyful month of celebrations and weddings into a living nightmare. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC

Helped by a stranger

Over the next few weeks, it got worse and the fighting drew closer to Malka’s home.

“Every day, I heard stories of how people had been killed, and I saw the remains of destroyed buildings. It scared me to death. I was particularly afraid during those early morning hours when the airstrikes would begin.”

She remembers one day waking up to the screams of the little girl next door.

“I ran out to the street without wearing my abaya or even a scarf on my head. I was running like mad and the street was full of people. It felt like the end of the world, the sky was covered in red lightening.”

Malka and her mother ran as fast as they could. They eventually reached a house and were welcomed in by the people living there. They stayed until the next morning.

A stranger helped Malka that day. Now, she is helping others.

 

I was running like mad and the street was full of people. It felt like the end of the world, the sky was covered in red lightening.
Malka Mohammed, NRC

Reaching the unreachable

As an education assistant in southern Yemen, her job is to make sure children living amid conflict can still access school. Through our education work, we rehabilitate and rebuild schools destroyed by shelling and other attacks, we distribute school materials, teach teachers and organise school meals.

“We cannot lose education in Yemen. If we lose education, we can lose a whole generation,” she says, and continues: “Education is so important, and that’s why we try to support young Yemenis to create a better life for themselves, and a future.”

But it’s not an easy task, as they often live in conflict areas, where the threat of invisible landmines and endless checkpoints along the way make the journey to reach them dangerous and long.

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In Yemen, all of the Norwegian Refugee Council’s cars have a large NRC logo on the rooftop, clearly visible from the sky, to reduce the risk of being hit by airstrikes. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC

When driving a car in Yemen’s conflict-affected areas, even the sky above you and the very ground you’re driving on are possible threats. Fastening your seatbelt is minor compared to the many other precautions you have to take. All of the Norwegian Refugee Council’s cars have a large NRC logo on the rooftop, clearly visible from the sky, to reduce the risk of being hit by airstrikes. Drivers must always keep to the main road, or, when off-road, follow the tracks made by other vehicles.The reason is simple: on a regular basis, cars and people are blown to pieces by landmines or unexploded bombs buried in the sand.

Yemen has been described as “the forgotten war” and “the world’s worst crisis”, but for Malka and over a hundred of NRC’s employees, the country represents more than gloomy headlines. It’s their home. It’s where they were born and raised, where they went to school. And now, where they go to work every single day, providing their fellow Yemenis with cash, safe water, shelter and education.

*SOURCE: Norwegian Refugee Council. Go to ORIGINAL.

2019 Human Wrongs Watch

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