OP-ED

Poverty Not an Obstacle for Driven Students

National Yemen

Poverty Not an Obstacle for Driven Students

Asma Al-Mohattwari

“It is fate and I can’t change it, so I must start again.” These were the words of Dhikra, a high school student, after one year of intense suffering.

Dhikra does not drive to a private school in a nice car; she does not receive private tutorials for her studies. But despite her difficult circumstances, she still managed to achieve a 95% in her high school science class.

Dhikra never complained about her life, and she was satisfied with everything she had. She was living in a small house with her parents, three sisters and brother. She was a very strong student, achieving the highest marks in all of her classes, when suddenly and without warning her life turned upside down. Her parents, she learned, were getting divorced.

Six years ago, Dhikra and her family shared a beautiful family atmosphere. In spite of their poverty, they enjoyed their life. It was during the Eid holiday that their enjoyment came to an end, when on the second day of Eid Dhikra’s father announced that he wanted a divorce from Afaf, Dhikra’s mother. Her father’s reason for divorce, says Dhikra, was absurd, but as this was the third time he initiated divorce, there was no hope for Afaf’s return.

Dhikra was shocked with such news. She was the youngest child in her family and the most fond of their mother. Dhikra could not imagine how she could live without her mother present. At the time of her parents’ divorce, Dhikra was only in the first stage of preparatory school. The event affected her studies severely.

After the divorce, Dhikra’s father retired and her mother found work as a cook and hotel maid. One year after the divorce, Dhikra had not seen her mother once since their separation, and this absence began to affect her psychologically. Dhikra’s father would not allow the children to stay with their mother because she was living in her places of employment, but he did allow the children to being paying visits to her for a few hours at a time.

Dhikra suffered greatly during this period, but her ambitions to be a doctor forced her to forget her wounds and suffering and throw herself back into her studies. She decided she would work hard and become the best student in her high school. “It is fate and I can’t change it,” she realized, “so I must start again”.

Years passed and Dhikra became the best student in the 7 July School. She spent all her time studying. “Sometimes I forget that there is a thing called food, because all my thinking was on studying,” she said.

Dhikra’s final year of school finally arrived, and it was now time to prove that she could be a doctor. She was in real need of her mother, but she refused to make her absence an obstacle. “I didn’t have anything to offer my daughter,” said Afaf. “I could only pray for her and encourage her with words.”

By achieving 95% in her science courses, Dhikra proved that success in difficult conditions is possible, and never limited to specific people. Dhikra says that her message to the world at large would be, “you can succeed under any conditions if you have real ambition and determination.”

Dhikra is not the only student to score high marks despite poverty. Arkan Saied, a young member of Yemen’s “marginalized” social group, scored 92% in sciences in his high school, receiving a first rank award from his school despite strenuous living conditions. Dozens of outstanding students, like Arkan, fail to achieve their glorious hidden futures simply because they have no one to support them.

Samira Abdulla, a mother, said she has noticed that students who are especially poor have strong ambitions.  The suffering they have undergone helps shape their dreams of what they want to be, inspiring them to work exceptionally hard to change their lives.

“We, as poor people, follow our sons and encourage them to perform better than those rich people who care only about deceptive appearances. They think that money is the only thing and the best thing that they provide to their children, and this leads them to failure,” she explained.

Ahmed Zaid, student and activist, said that Arkan was lucky because his case reached the media, which earned him the support of a number of businessmen and private companies. But for those students who can’t reach the media, Zaid wonders who will give them their chance? “I think too many chances are given to the sons of officials. Even if they fail, they are given second chances,” he said.

It is an unfair equation when rich students, who do whatever they want in the school year and complete their classes with unremarkable grades, are still able to easily secure scholarships. Poor students without powerful connections work hard all year, receive high marks, and still have no chance for scholarships.

Afaf, Dhikra’s mother, said that all what she wants is a chair for her daughter in the medicine faculty. “It is my daughter’s dream to be a doctor, and it is difficult for us to pay the costs of tuition and books. I asked the government to help her achieve her goal. If she is given a chance, she will be something great in Yemen’s future.”

An official source in the Ministry of Higher Education said that Yemen lacks transparency in the distribution of its scholarships, opening the door to all kinds of looting and unfair influence by powerful figures. Many improper government grants are secured through a process known as “mediation,” where wealthy or well-connected figures are able to use their position to secure government aid for their family members.

In addition to corruption in the awarding of scholarships, some students continue receiving money from the Ministry even after they have completed their studies.

“Where is the justice,” asks Diaa Damaj, a student in Malaysia. “Many students here in Malaysia have failed many times and they still receive government money; others have finished their studies and the government still gives them aid.”

The only thing Afaf wants, aside from a future for her daughter, is to feel that there is a real change in Yemen by getting rid of the mediation process.