By Mohammed Al-Asaadi
SANA’A, Yemen, 5 October 2011 – Two weeks after the belated launch of the new school year in Yemen, many thousands of children in the capital city of Sana’a are either still at home or in the process of finding a safe and available school.
New students arrive
After a long summer holiday, the schoolgirls at Al-Karda’ee Secondary School greet each other warmly and quickly notice a shy gathering of new classmates. Easy to spot, the newcomers congregate together, wearing a shared expression of apprehension on their young faces.
One of them is Bushra Mohammed Hamoud, a fourth grader from the beleaguered Hasaba neighbourhood in Sana’a. “This is my first week here,” she said solemnly. “I feel lonely because I don’t have friends to chat and play with.”
Bushra’s family is one of hundreds that were displaced from Hasaba, in the northern part of Sana’a, as a result of intense armed clashes between the military and armed tribesmen last month. “Soldiers stormed our house and kicked us all out,” explained Bushra.
Displaced and disrupted
Ghalia Al-Osaimi, the principal at Al-Karda’ee, explained that due to the relative safety of his school, dozens of displaced students from different hotspots around the city including Hasaba have shown up to attend class. This has resulted in overcrowding, which has been exacerbated by the fact that approximately a fifth of all teachers have not reported to work – mainly because they’ve been displaced themselves.
“We are already above capacity, with the new students beginning this year,” said Mr. Al-Osaimi. “Our main concern is how to keep the school up and running given the resumption of clashes. We are afraid that renewed violence will disturb our operations again.”
The teacher strikes and civil unrest which began back in February have not been the sole cause of disruption to education in Yemen, however, as the civil war in the north and the fight against Islamic militants in the south have also left hundreds of thousands in displacement.
To address the situation, the Ministry of Education with support from UNICEF and other partners recently launched a country-wide Back-To-School campaign, to encourage and facilitate access to schools and reduce the dropout rate – especially for displaced and otherwise disadvantaged or marginalised children.
“UNICEF is providing schoolbags containing essential school items to 350,000 of 800,000 targeted this year” said Mohamed Ali Bile, Chief of Basic Education & General Equity in UNICEF Yemen. “UNICEF is also providing 236 tents to the governorate of Sa’ada in the north that will be used as temporary learning spaces in areas where schools are overcrowded and cannot accommodate additional girls and boys, or in areas where there is no school at all.”
In addition, the UNICEF-supported campaign will aim to raise the awareness of communities about the importance of sending children to schools – especially girls – and specially train 3,800 teachers to help them provide quality education, as well as psychosocial support to their students.
The sound of artillery and scenes of violence and bloodshed on TV causes stress and disturbs children’s behavior, said Mohammed Al-Hemyari, a secondary school teacher in Al-Karda’ee. “My students have become more aggressive and come to class unable to focus, even though they say they love coming back to school.”
In Yemen, 75 percent of boys and only 64 percent of girls receive basic education – the worst such indicators in the region. A Yemeni girl has a 27 percent chance of going to secondary school, whereas a boy her age is almost twice as likely to do so. For girls like Bushra already facing the challenge of overcoming this gender-based disparity, the seemingly endless stretch of violence and conflict which continues to grip their country will only make their chances of achieving an education increasingly tenuous.