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Yemen – No normal Eid

Two Yemeni girls celebrate Eid.
Two Yemeni girls celebrate Eid-al-Fitr.

Fatima Al-Ajel works for Save the Children Yemen.

Last week millions of Muslims all over the world broke Ramadan, a month-long fast, with the joyous holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

For most there would have been no shortage of food, prayers or gifts.

But sadly, here in Yemen this was no normal Eid.

For four months the situation in Yemen has continued to deteriorate. Almost daily air strikes, shelling and ground fighting has seen more than 3,700 people killed – half of them civilians – and a further 15,000 injured.

If you asked any Yemeni what they wanted this Eid they would all have told you the same thing: “All we ask for is peace.”

Instead, what should have been a happy holiday of families and friends exchanging gifts, gathering for feasts and children indulging in sweets was something far more sombre.

Danger everywhere

Normally people decorate their houses for Eid and get dressed in new or clean clothes.

But many of the children I spoke to this year hadn’t dressed up.

All told me it was because of the conflict: “My mum said it is because of the war that we don’t have money to buy new clothes this Eid,” one young boy shared.

Another told me it is just too dangerous to go shopping anymore; something the relatives of the 45 civilians killed at a market in Lahj earlier this month will know only too well.

One popular part of Eid in Yemen is when girls decorate their hands with khethab or hena’a – a black liquid applied in intricate designs to the skin.

To do it properly takes hours, but they enjoy gathering with other girls and making themselves look beautiful for Eid the next day.

But for too many children this will be their last Eid.  In the very first days of the holiday I saw a photo of a Yemeni girl who had been killed in an airstrike. She was about 11 years old.

Her hands had been decorated with hena’a in preparation for Eid celebrations. On this holiday her family’s home should have been full of laughter and joy. Instead there was only rubble, tears and anger.

Children’s voices must be heard

What makes me most sad is that innocent children are suffering the most from this conflict – a crisis they have not made or contributed to.

For the month of Ramadan Yemeni’s fasted, contemplated and watched in horror as our country was ripped further and further apart.

All we wanted for Eid this year was a break in the fighting, some hope that peace may soon be upon us.

Now we have to wish that come September, the second and final Eid celebration of the year, called Eid Al-Adha, will be a holiday we can actually celebrate and that all parties to the conflict will finally hear the voices of millions of Yemeni children who tell me daily: “Stop this war. We want to live in peace.”

Despite the incredibly difficult circumstances for our staff like Fatima in Yemen – many of whom have been displaced themselves due to the ongoing airstrikes and fighting on the ground – we are responding to the crisis with Food Security and Livelihoods, Child Protection, Nutrition, Health and water, sanitation and health programming in nine of the affected governorates. To date we have supported over 21,000 people including 15,000 children.

This post first appeared on the Thomson Reuters Foundation website.

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