This blog post is written by Campaign Champions Sophia and Ramunė. They are part of a network of grassroots volunteers up and down UK who advocate for children’s rights and lobby MPs on a range of national and international issues.
In March, Save the Children and Oxfam hosted a video call with campaigners and activists working in Yemen to hear their stories of what it is like living in this war-torn country. Their stories highlighted how every part of a Yemeni's life is affected by conflict, from being afraid to let your child play outside to the crumbling healthcare system to the constant sense of fear.
One story that struck us most was when Sukaina told us how, ever since she became pregnant at the start of the conflict, her life and her child’s life have been shaped by war. She told us of the guilt she feels about bringing a child into such an uncertain and scary world and how she fears he will never feel like a child. She explained that her son, who is still very young, has had to learn how to hide when he hears the familiar and eery sound of a bomb alert, and that it saddens her that he cannot have a normal life or play outside like other children because of the constant threat and danger.
No one should have to feel this way. When we asked how we as volunteers can support people in Yemen, she explained that the most valuable things we can do are to share these stories and to put pressure on our own government to act. As the crisis enters its sixth year, and given the current global pandemic, now more than ever is the time for action.
Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Middle East and COVID-19 brings significant new challenges for its people. 67% of the population is food insecure, with families unable to provide for their own basic needs and dependent on support. More than half of hospitals and clinics have already shut down or are partially functioning as a result of the war. With hospitals struggling to operate and a fuel crisis, COVID-19 brings more uncertainty and fear. During our video call in March, the speakers described the growing fear of the prospect of lockdown, which would prevent people from earning a living which they are dependent on in order to provide for their family and themselves.
One of the clearest messages that came out of this session was that international aid must continue coming into Yemen throughout this epidemic. Yemen is 80% import dependant, so completely relies on international supplies and support. Oxfam in Yemen has been travelling around the country and raising awareness of COVID-19 to programmes in the field to manage the fear and uncertainty.
Hearing these personal accounts really brought home how much Yemen needs our help and how important it is to keep their stories and culture alive. This was highlighted by Thana Faroq who showed us photos and personal stories she has collected of Yemen before the conflict and now. The images feature stories from refugees, videos of refugee camps and memories collected from Yemeni people in the UK, the Netherlands, Djibouti and Yemen itself. As Thana states on her website and soon-to-be book, The Passport Project:
“Calling on my own experience, I reflect on notions of freedom and the struggle to leave a country where violence, war, and aggression are prevalent. Through portraits, images of daily life, personal reflections, and handwritten testimonies, I aim to capture the hopes, fears, dreams, and isolation felt by refugees and show the unpredictable, transitory, and restricted nature of our lives.”
We would like to thank Oxfam and Save the Children for organising this event and to those who shared their stories. Every story was incredibly powerful and moving.
As campaigners, we will make sure to share these stories with others to highlight why it is crucial to act now on Yemen.