By Shatha Hottam
Whenever Asma often closes her eyes and hides her head and body under a thick cover to avoid the infiltrator frost from the window with no curtains and trying to sleep. She accidentally kicks her roommate while going to the bathroom.
Asma and her roommates are forced to live in a very small prayer room in university housing with bad ventilation. Students have a very restricted choice: either accept studying and living in such miserable place or go back to remote villages and accept the societal restrictions on girls’ education. Girls aren’t allowed to live alone in a separate home before marriage, so student housing was their only choice to achieve their dream of studying at university. They didn’t want to be illiterate like 61.6% of Yemeni women.
Asma came from Rima to Sana’a and has lived in university housing since 2013. She conducted all the necessary tests including hepatitis and AIDS and paid 11,500 riyals for the accommodation and housing fees.
Unfortunately, the director of housing told her there was no capacity and no available rooms. Asma was forced to live in her friend’s house for one year. “When i returned to the residence to have my room there as per the management promise, the prayer room was the only space waiting for me and 15 other students,” she said.
The prayer room is the only solution for students girls who don’t want to return to their homes. 15 students were sharing this small room: five from Hajjah, two from Amran, two from Hodeidah, three from Taiz, and two Yemenis were living in Saudi Arabia, as KSA does not allow Yemenis to study in the Saudi universities.
In addition to the overcrowding, chaos, and garbage in the prayer room, there is no bathroom. The girls are forced to go to their friends’ rooms who has private bathrooms. In this case, the girls need to build a friendship and relationship with other girls to allow them to use their bathrooms as per the house supervisors advise to them. She said be diplomat and nice to your friends to give a chance to use their rest rooms.
In a report in April 2014, Bushra al-Hammadi, Director of Housing, informed the Vice Chairman for Student Affairs Dr. Sinan al-Marhadhi that the University Housing General Director Mohamed al-Zalab put 15 students in the prayer room without providing any supplies or access to kitchens or bathrooms.
Al-Zalab justified the overcrowding and poor conditions saying that, “The students and their parents came to my office and begged me to find shelter for them in any place and in any way so as not to return to their homes and deprive them of the opportunity to complete their education. I find myself compelled to accept them in the prayer room.”
The suffering is not limited to those in the prayer room. Housing consists of 250 rooms equipped for only 250 students. Housing is divided into two buildings consisting of three floors. Each floor consists of two suites with 70 to 75 students in each suite. The bathrooms are divided according to the number of rooms; every three rooms share one bathroom. There is a shared kitchen for each suite lacking basic tools like utensils, water, a stove, an oven, cabinets, sinks, tubs, heaters, refrigerators and soaps. In some rooms there are four girls and in others there is only girl because she is a relative of some officials there.
“Housing is not a five-star hotel; it is enough to find a shelter even if it is a hut. Suffering creates creativity,” said al-Marhadhi.
Al-Marhadhi said that one of the students’ admission standards is to be from remote areas or from practical or scientific faculties. However, these standards are not applied because of overcrowding and there are students in housing belonging to other faculties such as education, trade, and arts who aren’t from remote areas.
“The problem is not in the housing, but the problem of Yemen is money. The state is in quasi-bankruptcy. In the light of the scarce possibilities for state enterprises, it is wonderful that we are still alive,” Al-Marhadhi added.
Al-Hammadi accused the presidency of Sana’a University of disrupting her tasks. “I tried as much as possible to control things here in the housing, but there is no cooperation from them. Whenever I issued a decree to the presidency of the university, they don’t sign it. They are implementing what suits them only.”
Housing lacks regulations and laws enabling organized residency. It is assumed that housing is only for students, but many graduates are still in housing. Some of them are employees in governmental and private institutions according to a report submitted to the Chairman of Student Affairs.
Al-Hammadi confirmed that there are 23 girls who graduated in 2010 still in housing. Al-Hammadi confirmed that al-Zalab allowed them to stay, while al-Zalab accused Al-Hammadi of not taking the correct measures required to get them out of housing.
Another problem the students are suffering from is the shortage and cleanliness of water. Al-Zalab said that the water supplies that feed student housing are owned by the College of Agriculture at the university, pointing out that those supplies are out of service sometimes.
Makram Mohamed, General Director of Maintenance, said that it is collective punishment on students because they waste water and don’t know the value of it.
Sara and her friends said that they got severe diarrhea when drinking from the housing tap water. “We asked the housing management to provide us with clean drinking water, but no one listen to us,” complained Sara. Students are forced to buy water from the grocery store for drinking.
The majority of the students come from remote areas and are poor. They can’t buy water so they drink from the tap. Nasreen, a student, is suffering from high rates of salt in the kidneys because of the water in housing “I can barely pay for housing and study,” she said. According to a questionnaire, the average amount of money to buy water every month is at least 1,500 riyals.
The Kuwait Fund was caring for all the needs of housing and maintenance services, but the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 ended Kuwaiti projects in Yemen and the Egyptian supervisors and crew left, who have been running it since it was built in 1985.
Since that time, there has not been any serious maintenance process. According to Abdullah Al Masoud, a civil engineer, humidity is a big threat to the safety of the building, stressing the need for periodic maintenance.
Makram said that the lack of maintenance for housing is because of the administration budget, which is only 400,000 riyals ($1,860) of the total university budget of 13 billion riyals ($60,000,465).
Students are still waiting for maintenance, addressing overcrowding, and providing clean water. They are continuing their lives without the basic standards of a good life in order to achieve their dreams and not return to their villages.
This investigation is funded by Arab Reports for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) and was supervised by Saad Hattar.