Yemen’s new school year is underway, but Midian Aoud skips class and washes cars to support his family in its struggle to survive the “misery” of poverty exacerbated by war.
The 12-year-old lives in Taez, a besieged city in the grinding conflict between Iran-backed Huthi rebels and government forces supported by a Saudi-led military coalition.
“My friends are studying and I am not. They are in seventh grade. I dropped out of school to help my parents and support my family,” Midian, dressed in a torn T-shirt, told AFP.
After washing cars, Midian goes to help his father, Adnan Aoud, a shoemaker who says his decision not to send his son to school was difficult but unavoidable as the extra income was needed just to feed the family.
“To study, you need books, notebooks and pens. I wanted to provide for my children and send them to school, but I couldn’t,” Adnan told AFP. “We are in total misery.”
The father said he himself was also unable to attend school in a country that was already one of the poorest in the Middle East even before the war that has ravaged it for eight years.
– ‘Illiterate’ –
“My children and I are illiterate. I wanted my son to do better than me, but he’ll become a shoemaker too,” said Adnan. “This isn’t a life!”
Yemen’s economy was already in crisis before the conflict started in 2014, when the Huthis seized the capital Sanaa.
Since 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition intervened, the war has killed hundreds of thousands directly or indirectly, the UN says.
The conflict has fuelled displacement, the spread of disease and collapse of infrastructure, and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
A UN-brokered truce that came into effect on April 2 and has twice been renewed provided respite from violence for much of the country and alleviated some of the suffering.
The UN children’s agency UNICEF said the Arabian Peninsula country is facing a “severe education crisis”.
“The conflict and frequent interruptions to schooling… have a profound impact on learning as well as intellectual and emotional development,” the agency told AFP.
The war and the education crisis were damaging the mental health of 10.6 million children, UNICEF said.
The UN agency estimates that more than two million children have dropped out of Yemen’s schools, an increase of nearly half-a-million since 2015.
UNICEF says displacement, security risks, teacher shortages and decaying infrastructure worsened the problem, with at least one in four schools unusable due to the conflict.
– Dangers abound –
In Taez, schools reopened this month with more than 500,000 students joining classes despite the danger of living in a city held by the government but surrounded by rebels who are blocking roads.
The Huthi siege “hinders many of our students as well as the entry of school supplies”, said Abdelwassie Shadad, head of education in the Taez region.
Despite the current ceasefire, dangers abound for students, including gunfire.
Barriers made of dirt are erected in some areas to protect children on their way to school.
Ishraq Yahia, a teacher at a girls’ school, described the truce as “a huge failure” since the siege remains in place and there is still sporadic sniper fire.
“There are still students being targeted on their way to school. Some have been hit while they were inside the school bus,” she told AFP.
Taez, which is surrounded by mountains, is one of the cities hardest hit by Yemen’s war.
So far, in spite of UN-sponsored talks, there has been no progress made on opening the main roads leading into Yemen’s third city.
The siege has complicated the delivery of humanitarian aid and added to transportation costs since goods have to be taken on longer routes, denying many Yemenis access to basic services.
Malak Faisal says goodbye to her mother every day in case she doesn’t make it back alive.
“We are in danger every day going to school. The Huthis’ missiles and snipers don’t spare anyone.”