icon icon icon icon icon icon icon

The remarkable life of Bushra Aldukhainah: A story from Northern Yemen

As Area Manager, Bushra Aldukhainah leads all CARE activity across Hajjah, Hodeidah and Mahwit governorates. Photo: CARE Yemen

As Area Manager, Bushra Aldukhainah leads all CARE activity across Hajjah, Hodeidah and Mahwit governorates. Photo: CARE Yemen

I was born and raised in highly conservative Northern Yemen, where a girl usually does not tread beyond primary school, where a girl must learn to prioritize household chores above everything, where a girl normally gets married at a very tender age, and where it is highly unlikely for a woman to chalk out a professional career.

My life could have been identical.

But here I am, living a strikingly different life.

I started working with CARE as project assistant in 2010, and now I work as Area Manager for Hajjah Governorate, where I lead a team of 65 staff members.

Each year, on average, we work with around 400,000 people, and, as Area Manager, I’m responsible for the entire operational aspects across Hajjah, Hodeidah, and Mahwit governorates.

Sometimes, when I look back on my life’s journey, it seems unreal.

“Since childhood, I’ve always believed in myself and never gave up. I fought for my dreams.” Photo: Courtesy of Bushra Aldukhainah

Early Days

I grew up in the closed society of Northern Yemen, where women are hardly allowed to seek higher education or employment. Nevertheless, girls do attend school for basic literacy before getting married, usually in their teens.

Despite such adverse circumstances, I’d always dreamt of obtaining international degrees, traveling beyond Yemen, meeting new people, mastering new languages, and so forth.

Given the deep-rooted local traditions, though, every time I confided in someone, that person would invariably laugh at my crazy thoughts.

However, as a maverick, deep down inside I knew I would have my chances with the right education.

Balancing home and school, no matter what

My teen-life was largely dotted with tantalizing marriage proposals — and then dodging them with uncanny precision!

To make things worse, every year my mother would ask me to drop school and help her out with household work instead.

I did support my mother, and I took care of my nine siblings as much as I could. It was crazy and, often, back-breaking. Thankfully, I was able to convince my mother to let me keep going to school.

I tried to balance both home and school, no matter what.

Bushra, from an early age, had to look after her siblings. She was only 10 when this photo was taken (2nd from left). Photo: Courtesy of Bushra Aldukhainah

This tormenting pattern of proposals (and, then, dodging proposals) continued until I reached seventeen. Finally, I had to give in and tie the knot.

However, I agreed to marry only after was I given the assurance that I could pursue further studies. As a result, I had to finish all sorts of household chores first, such as baking, cooking, cleaning, washing, and, then — and only then — I could study. This way, I was able to complete my bachelor’s degree in English from Hajjah University in 2004-5.

Later in 2014, I did an MBA from India, before the conflict erupted in Yemen.

Women's History Month: #WomenKnowHow

Conflict and displacement

In 2015, given the frequent air strikes, I had to flee along with my family and CARE staff — from the Haradh district to the nearby Hajjah city. Sadly, after two months, air strikes began in Hajjah as well, killing at least 120 people on the very first day.

Like many others, our home got pulverized by the bombardment. I also lost one of my cousins and her nine-year-old son. Most families experienced similar stories of loss and destruction.

One of the many buildings in Yemen that has been nearly completely destroyed by bombing. Currently, 4.5 million people have been internally displaced by the conflict, making Yemen the sixth largest displacement crisis in the world. Photo: Eman Al-Awami/CARE.

We lived in shock and bewilderment for more than two years, constantly struggling to adjust with this bizarre situation. We often spent days without water, electricity, and other life-saving essentials. Constant bombardment was our daily companion, with aircrafts criss-crossing the sky.

Death was a routine chore, and we nearly got used to the meaningless atrocities around.

It took us years to whisper to our souls that we must learn to live like this and feel grateful for being alive.

Eventually, we decided to move on. I had to respond to people’s humanitarian needs, support the team I was leading, and the community around me.

In 2016, right after the conflict intensified in Yemen, I got an award from the UK’s York University to study for an online Master’s Degree in International Humanitarian Affairs. Initially, I was quite indecisive, but in the end, I decided to take up this challenge. I had to get up very early at 5AM and study for around two hours. This was the only free time I could think of.

Aside from studying, my morning at home would typically include praying, cooking, cleaning, preparing my son for school, and then preparing myself for work.

The daily CARE routine

Bushra’s day typically starts with team meetings and planning, followed by project visits. Photo: CARE Yemen

Now, my CARE morning normally kicks off with team meetings where we discuss day-to-day priorities and challenges. One challenge that I routinely encounter is managing a male family member as guardian who must go with me when I visit different project locations. This is very frustrating, since I am the one who is trying to take care of so many people, being the Area Manager.

Nevertheless, we are respectful of the local norms, and we continue serving the community, including the internally displaced people. Through our work, we reach out to women, children, and men with the much-needed clean drinking water, cash transfers, as well as water schemes’ rehabilitation through cash-for-work, hygiene kits, and latrine construction.

As of January 2023, 23.5 million people (66% of population) are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Thankfully, every time I visit a working area, I see hope in people’s eyes and hear words of gratitude. I remember an elderly man who benefited from one of the water schemes, saying, “All my life, I waited to see our homes having water connections. I can’t believe the dream has finally become a reality.”

I wish to underline here that 15.3 million people in Yemen require water, sanitation, and hygiene related services. I can never forget the woman who told me after getting a new latrine, “You have protected me from going out in the dark to relieve myself. May God, protect you like you protected me. Many women get scorpion or snake bites during that terrible journey.”

In 2022, CARE Yemen reached 767,147 people with water, sanitation, and hygiene services, including water trucking and hygiene kits, working with communities on hygiene promotion to prevent the spread of deadly diseases like cholera and COVID 19. Photo: CARE Yemen.

During one of my field visits to a place called Hodaidah, an elderly lady grabbed me by the hand to show me her new shop, which was a part of a market that CARE had helped construct. While showing me her vegetables she said “you deserve to be protected; you have changed my life.”

I feel blessed indeed.

CARE has distributed food, cash, and vouchers to 1.4 million people to help them access food, cash, and agriculture assistance. CARE has also supported women’s economic empowerment by improving access to financial means, equipment, technical advice and training to set up small businesses.

Education is another area of concern in Yemen — and for CARE. Many children — especially girls — were already out-of-schools before the war, as many people failed to realize the importance of education.

Girls had to take care of all domestic chores and fetch water from distant places that left them with hardly any time to attend school. The situation further exacerbated given the conflict as many educational institutions got fully or partially damaged.

Nearly 8.5 million children require educational support across Yemen, and last year the education sector received only 12% of the funding required.

The health sector in Yemen needs immediate attention as well. Due to lack of proper facility and services, people are deprived of quality and timely medical assistance.

In the areas where I work, CARE is trying to help reduce the spread of common preventable diseases e.g. cholera, and diarrhea through water, sanitation and hygiene promotion activities, distribution of hygiene kits and cash transfers to address the most urgent needs of people.

CARE empowered 25,934 children and youth with improved access to education, and training so they have better opportunities for their future. Photo: CARE Yemen.
In 2022, CARE provided primary healthcare to 26,765 people through rehabilitating health facilities and setting up mobile clinics. Photo: Bassam Saleh/CARE

In 2022, CARE enabled 90,785 women to access reproductive health services by training and equipping midwives, rehabilitating maternity wards, and providing home delivery kits.

Despite all our efforts, CARE Yemen has been able to reach only around 2.3 million people in 2022. Sadly, we are constantly faced with resource limitations against a much larger scale and scope.

The war in Yemen is approaching its ninth year. Like any other crisis, women and girls are bearing the brunt of this protracted conflict, considered to be the world’s one of the worst humanitarian crises.

As a woman leader working closely with people for over a decade, I would like to urge the international community to come forward with sustainable and impactful investment.

We need to intensify our efforts and inject more resources to help Yemeni people rebuild their lives towards self-reliance. A total of $4.3 billion is needed to be able to reach at least 17 million people in need.

We count on your continued support to make a difference, and to make impossible dreams like mine possible.

Back to Top