The conflict in Yemen has resulted in more than two million children being out of school. UNICEF speaks to one child for whom education is not just a means to his dream job, but a way to prevent violence in the future.
Before the conflict in Yemen escalated, 10-year-old Fahd lived peacefully with his family in the northern city of Sa’ada. His routine was to wake up every morning, go to school, play with friends in the evenings and go back home for dinner and do his school homework.
Fahd’s family lived a decent life in a cozy three-bedroom apartment. “Just like I looked forward to go to school every morning, I also looked forward to going back home in the afternoon. Life was comfortable,” recounts Fahd.
“My feet were swollen after walking for one hour. I asked to go back but my father said I could be killed.”
All this changed when the conflict in Yemen escalated in March 2015 and swept through the streets of Fahd’s home area. He recalls being woken up by the sounds of bombs and bullets. His father immediately ordered the whole family to get into the car and they fled to their village home.
Fahd remembers how chaotic it was on the road with scores of civilians fleeing in the midst of the deadly bombardment. After driving for some distance, Fahd’s father decided that it was not safe to continue driving any further and so they abandoned their car and started to trek to their village.
“My feet were swollen after walking for one hour. I asked to go back but my father said I could be killed,” said Fahd.
After two days of walking, they arrived at the village. There wasn’t enough space to accommodate all of them so the men, including Fahd, had to sleep out in the open. “I couldn’t sleep at night. I always wondered what would have happened to our house, our school and my friends,” he said.
Fahd thought it would just be a brief stay in the village and then they would return to Sa’ada to resume their normal life. It has now been a year and a half and the war continues without an end in sight.
A few weeks after they fled, Fahd’s father returned to Sa’ada to pick up some of their belongings. He was shocked when he found their house had been flattened. They had lost all of their possessions. Their life’s belongings lay there in the rubble.
Fahd had asked his father to bring back his school books, toys and his bicycle. This was not to be. His distraught father returned to the village the same day to deliver the shocking news. “I went to the back of our makeshift house in the village and wept in silence. My father came to check on me and he too started to cry,” said Fahd.
Education is the solution
Fahd is keeping his hope alive. He dreams of becoming a civil engineer because he wants to rebuild his city and country.
He hopes to return to Sa’ada when the situation improves to continue with his schooling. “I want to connect with my friends again, I want to play with them once again, I wish war would end and everything would go back like it was before,” is Fahd’s message to the world.
Fahd believes education is the solution to Yemen’s constant conflicts. “Educated people should understand that wars are bad,” he said. When he was told that some of the leaders of the warring parties are educated people, he promptly responds, “But most of the fighters are not.”
Fahd is one of 1.4 million children who have been displaced by the current conflict in Yemen and now struggle to survive far away from home. To ensure such children don’t miss out on education, UNICEF is supporting the Back-to-School campaign which includes renovating nearly 700 damaged schools, providing school materials and mobilizing parents and communities to send their children to school. Teachers are receiving training on psychosocial support to help students cope with the horrors of the conflict.
If Yemen’s current generation miss out on school, the long-term consequences are bleak. Investing in education and protection must be prioritized if children like Fahd are to realize their dreams for a better Yemen now and in the future.
UNICEF and education in emergencies
One in four of the world’s school-aged children now live in countries affected by crisis. UNICEF is working to secure children’s access to schooling during and after crises, and building the resilience of education systems to prepare for and respond to crises.
UNICEF is the interim host of Education Cannot Wait – a new global fund dedicated to transforming the rapid response delivery of education in emergencies. The Fund will work to ensure safe, free, quality education to meet the needs of 75 million children and youth whose education has been disrupted by crises. Canada has committed significant support of $20 million over the next two years. This will go a long way towards helping create lasting change for a generation affected by the crisis, and support them in acquiring the skills and knowledge they need to rebuild their communities and safeguard their futures.