On 28th June 2020, Reimagining Society conducted its first webinar on the theme 'Understanding the well-being of Yemen'. The underlying purpose behind this webinar was to elucidate the harsh realities of Yemen while concentrating solely on the concept of well-being over there. Ms. Olla Al-Sakkaf who is the program manager of Youth without Boundaries Organization for Development (YWBOD) was the keynote speaker of this webinar. She shared some vivid insights about Yemen and the well-being of the Yemeni people.
While well-being seems to be a common terminology in today’s world, there are a number of people who still struggle to comprehend what exactly the word ‘well-being’ denotes and what all things come under its ambit. Oxford Dictionary defines well-being as the ‘state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.’ At Reimagining Society, we believe that the concept of well-being is not limited to its definition but a way of living life that affects everything around us.
With this motto in mind, our team of young individuals from all across the globe carefully curated several questions that dealt with an array of topics to share the story of Yemen before the world. The questions that were put forth before Ms. Al-Sakkaf can be bifurcated into financial well-being, career well-being, cultural well-being, mental well-being and well-being of women and children
Yemen has been undergoing a conflict from the past five years which has pushed the country into a state of turmoil. The adverse effects of this war have not only had an impact on the economy of the country but has also influenced the infrastructure, education, and the people over there. A large number of people have no access to healthcare facilities and food. The conditions are so bad that as per United Nations reports, some 20 million people need help securing food and almost 10 million of them are considered "one step away from famine" The number of malnourished children under the age of five could increase to a total of 2.4 million by the end of 2020 as per UNICEF.
Many a time people are also compelled to live on the streets since they can no longer afford to pay rent during the hard times. Ms. Al-Sakkaf highlighted how foreign aid has been a mixed-blessing which at one hand has supported a lot of families but on the other has also made people dependent on it. People are no longer actively seeking work and according to her the best way to deal with this is by initiating developmental projects so to rebuild the country and help people get back on their feet.
Ever since the war, the career aspects in Yemen have almost diminished. Many youths are working for the emergency aid program that runs all around Yemen. However, Ms. Al-Sakkaf shared how the war had a slight silver lining that helped in uplifting the status of women in society. Prior to the war, people did not believe in the role of women and working women were not a common sight. However, this changed when women started establishing their own projects to earn a livelihood. This helped in creating an impact on the society which made them realize that women can do anything that men can and can even lead their successful businesses.
The war certainly had a negative impact on the people which further created a divide among them. The fact that people fight among themselves and are hostile towards each other shows how the social fabric of Yemen has been tampered with. With museums being destroyed and artifacts being stolen the cultural heritage of Yemen has been left barren. Despite these hurdles, the will of the Yemeni people is what keeps them going.
Ms. Al-Sakkaf then shared her own experience, “Once I was working in the street and heard the noise of a bomb explode. On the other side of the street, someone was singing loudly as if nothing was going on around him. We have lost the feeling of fear. We are not scared of losing anymore because there is nothing else to lose. So, people are trying to be happy. They are trying to celebrate and gather with others, and create things to make them happy regardless of what is going on around them.”
With everything going around the Yemeni people, they are trying to do everything that cheers them up from celebrating weddings to cultural events. Keeping one’s culture alive during the war is challenging and yet the Yemeni people are doing what they can.
Access to resources:
Many people in Yemen are devoid of basic resources such as water and electricity. The problem of water scarcity is one of the major issues in Yemen since the country is highly dependent on rainwater. Currently, there is a huge shortage of water and nearly 10 million people in Yemen do not have access to clean drinking water. The fact that they have to pay for water does not make the situation any better for them. The groundwater levels in Yemen are also decreasing drastically and the farmers have to dig deeper each time for groundwater. Dehydration and Acute Watery Diarrhea (AWD) are a common problem for the people there because of unclean filthy water. Apart from the water, another major issue for Yemen is electricity. Many cities and towns in the country do not have electricity. Many children in Yemen do not even know what electricity is. Further, very limited people in Yemen have access to the internet due to which the flow of information from the country has been hampered. Yemen has unfortunately been insulated from the world.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has taken a toll on the infrastructure and healthcare system of Yemen which was already struggling due to the war. As good as 20 percent of people are losing their lives after treatment in Yemen due to problems like infection, compared to the global average of 7 percent. The situation is likely to deteriorate considerably with time. The lack of PPE kits and testing has also exposed the paramedics in the country to a vulnerable state. The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are the worst hit group in this pandemic since they do not have houses to take shelter. The whole world is full of agony and is fearful of the current pandemic. However, this is exactly how the Yemeni people have been feeling ever since the inception of war; unsafe and frightened. Apart from COVID-19 Yemen is in an abysmal condition because of the outbreak of cholera, malaria, and dengue fever among people.
The war has led to many traumatizing experiences which in turn has created a negative impact on the mental health of people. Ms. Al-Sakkaf mentioned how the youths of Yemen have lost any ray of hope and now are willingly choosing to join the war as they believe there are no choices left for them. Many of them are dropping out of universities, using drugs, and even committing crimes. Even parenting amid the war has become a tedious task since parents can no longer hide the truth from their children. Children can no longer go to school or go out to play due to safety concerns. To cope up with everything that has been going on the children are often told how the war is not going last forever and once it ends there would be a lot of things they could do and a lot of games they do could play. It is safe to say that Yemen is slowly losing its future generation. Nevertheless, there are a lot of local organizations that have emerged recently and are trying to focus on the issue of the mental health of people. Ms. Al-Sakkaf stated that there is a need to focus on youth’s mental health, implement more programs, and to establish a physical and psychological aid for the youths.
The well-being of women and children:
One of the most marginalized sections of the society amid the war are women and children. Children are not able to attend schools anymore and lack of internet connectivity and resources have made it impossible for them to opt for alternatives like online classes and e-learning. Due to war around 2 million children had to drop out of school however, ever since the COVID-19 outbreak 7.8 million children in Yemen are unable to access education. Many women in Yemen are subjected to gender-based violence and patriarchy. The deep-rooted gender inequality in society during the war has exposed women and young girls to inhumane psychological and physical trauma. Ms. Al-Sakkaf advocated on how we must strive to ensure a better environment for women and children: “We should focus on this community group, because women are our teachers and mothers, and children are our future.”
How can the international community especially the youth extend a helping hand towards Yemen?
While many organizations are focusing on the conditions of Yemen we at Reimagining Society wanted to know how the youth all around the globe can help Yemen in these hard times. Ms. Al-Sakkaf highlighted how the international community must work hard to end this war and hope for a ceasefire. The organizations working in Yemen have to strive hard to implement projects for the betterment of society after a deep and thorough assessment of the needs of the people and social situation. They have to come up with a sustainable solution for Yemen as there is a dire need to start rebuilding the country. About 80% of the population - 24 million people - need humanitarian assistance and protection.
International organizations must strive to provide children with psycho-social help at every stage since it is not easy being a child in a war. We need to understand that every child has an inherent right to childhood and under no circumstances should be forcefully treated as an adult.
It is finally the time for the world to focus on the sufferings of the Yemenis people where everyone is raising their voice against the deplorable conditions in Yemen. The situation of Yemen clearly reflects on how the well-being of Yemen is stumbling during these hard times. It is crucial for all of us to come together and help Yemen during this unfortunate situation and make sure that each person over there gets a right to live life with dignity and respect.
- Reimagining Society