By: Abdurrahman Shamlan
In an effort to press the government into meeting their demands, students at Sana’a’s School for Orphans have erected tents on Taiz Street and have vowed not to depart until their demands have been met.
After feeling that their needs have been ignored for years, the students have effectively cut off the street, one of Sana’a’s main thoroughfares.
Adnan Al-Saidi, a teacher at the school, said, “The students are calling for their basic rights. They are only asking for food, clothes, and a little pocket money.”
While he doesn’t agree with their blocking the road, Mr. Al-Saidi says the students have every right to protest and himself called on the National Unity Government to pay more attention to the orphans and their school, which has been one of the pillars of the nation’s educational system for more than 90 years.
“The students aren’t demanding much; they’re only calling for basic needs to be fulfilled – such as food, clothes, and stationery, things which the government used to provide, but which disappeared in 2008 when school funding became the governorate’s responsibility,” said Al-Saidi.
“At this critical time of the year, with final exams approaching, the students should be staying inside and studying well to pass the exams. Unfortunately, they are too busy calling for their basic rights to properly attend to their studies. We have been trying hard to convince the students to study and not let this affect them.”
In the current climate of political and social divisions, Al-Saidi emphasized the importance of the students’ protests remaining non-partisan.
“The students took action and we had to respect them, but we cautioned against letting anyone from outside into their protests. We want their protests to stay pure, and for them to call for their rights only,” he said.
The students used to receive a monthly sum of YR 300, but since responsibility for funding the school transferred from the Ministry of Education to the governorate, the flow of funds has completely dried up.
Students accuse former Sana’a mayor Abdul-Rahman al-Aqwa and his aides of being the reason behind their suspended rights.
According to the students, the quality of education at the school has sharply deteriorated and even the food is insufficient and of poor quality.
“Apparently, the government thinks the daily ten riyals it used to give to orphans for pocket money is too much, and therefore has withheld it,” said Mohammed Abdu al-Raimi, deputy head of the school’s student committee.
“The student can’t understand and learn if he enters the classroom hungry. This leads to students hating education and to their becoming failures in the future,” Al-Raimi added.
“We decided to rescue our school before it’s too late, and we will not go anywhere until our demands have been met.” Al-Raimi said.
Yousof Al-Matari, a graduate from the school, said he came to support his colleagues in their struggle to receive basic rights.
“We demand that the orphans’ rights be met and guaranteed, and we also call for corrupt officials to be held responsible for the suspension of funds – in particular, the former mayor of Sana’a, Abdul-Rahman Al-Akwa.
“As long as we’re on the right side, we won’t back down. The government should support the orphans rather than provide tribal sheikhs with monthly salaries,” he added.
The number of students enrolled at the School for Orphans has sharply decreased of late, and especially so following the uprising which struck the country. Many students have been recruited into various units in Yemen’s fragmented army. Some students were recruited even before they reached the legal enlistment age.
While there were more than 1500 students at the school in 2010, there are now only 380 pupils, this according to Hassan Al-Taib, a teacher and head of the school’s high school department.
“Before the students took to the streets, they came to us and said ‘If you could give us our rights, we wouldn’t hold any protests.’ But we could not provide them with their basic needs, and therefore they decided to escalate their protests,” said Al-Taib.
Hassan believes that cutting off the road isn’t the right method to adopt, but also said the students’ actions are justifiable as they had no other way to have their basic needs met.
“If the president would only provide the school with five million YR, the students would immediately call off their protests.”
In addition to the aforementioned demands, the students have also called for the School for Orphans to be made a financially-independent institution that – administration-wise – answers to the president.