Youth of Yemen: Being the change Yemen wants to see

Youth of Yemen: Being the change Yemen wants to see

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Holly Frew

“We will not run away and give up on our country. We will survive this war, and help bring change to Yemen.”

After years of political instability and months of continuous airstrikes, one would not expect to hear a statement like this from a Yemeni person, but 26-year-old, Hana is boldly speaking on behalf of youth in Yemen eager to be “agents of change”, in a country seemingly plagued by conflict. Just this week, Hana was walking to the CARE office in Sanaa when a huge blast only 200 meters away sent her running into a nearby bank building for shelter.

“This is daily life for everyone in Sanaa. Some days it’s calm, and some days it’s not. It’s so unpredictable. Right now, we’re on day four with no electricity. When it does come on, it will only be on for an hour. At night, I will hear planes flying overhead, dropping the missile, then BOOM! The house and windows shake and I open my eyes to make sure I’m still alive. Each morning, I go to work exhausted from lack of sleep, but I must go to work to keep living,” shared Hana.

“People find ways to survive, and many of the young people here are trying to turn a horrific situation into something positive for our country. Fuel shortages have made riding bicycles a transportation alternative, but in Yemen, it’s never been culturally acceptable for women to ride bikes, so I’ve joined a group of women who started a campaign to change that,” said Hana. “You also see people making art out of windows shattered by the bombs, and youth are also making street art promoting messages of peace.”

Hana is one of those optimistic young Yemenis helping lead the youth to be beacons of positive change in their country. She is the assistant project manager for CARE’s Foundation For Peace project, which is focused on peacebuilding with youth in Yemen. The primary objectives of the Peace project are to train youth and local council in communities on peacebuilding and conflict resolution and to raise the voices of women and youth. Since the peace project started in 2012, CARE staff has trained 560 youth, women and local council, and in neighborhoods in the governorates of Sanaa, Taiz and Aden.

Since the airstrikes started, a naval blockade has prevented resources basic for survival, like fuel and food, to enter the country. With fuel shortages, bus fares have doubled and their transportation unreliable. Fuel is also too expensive so many people have started riding bikes as an alternative. Without fuel to pump potable water, clean water has become an extremely scarce resource in Yemen and at times, a source of conflict between neighbors.

People, especially women and children, walk long distances to line up in hopes of collecting water at large trucks housing water containers that wealthy businesspeople and merchants have donated to poor neighborhoods to help. Unfortunately, these water trucks do not provide an efficient way for people to collect the water with much of the water being wasted, and people fighting over the water. As a solution, water tanks have started being installed that make it easier for people to peacefully collect water without it being wasted.

“In these neighborhoods, people may not agree on things politically, but they all have the same basic needs. And in Yemen culture, you share everything. You can’t eat while watching your neighbor go hungry. The youth found that more water tanks is a huge priority, and they can be used to reduce people’s daily suffering and promote peace within neighborhoods rather than fighting,” said Hana.

So, CARE has sponsored 15 water tanks in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Sanaa that didn’t have any water tanks nearby. As they manage the water tanks have been brought in to these neighborhoods, the youth are also holding sports programs and awareness campaigns that include street art promoting messages of peace and caring for each other as they all struggle through this difficult time together.

“With schools closed because of the war, serving is an outlet for these young people. They have said that even if funding for the program ends, they will continue the work. They want to bring positive change to their neighborhoods,” said Hana.


Youth and women in poor neighborhood in Sanaa that are part of CARE's Foundation for Peace project. © 2015 Hana Alshowafi/CARE