A new school year begins in Yemen, but Midian Aud skips classes and washes cars to support his family’s struggle to survive in the “misery” of poverty exacerbated by war.
The 12-year-old lives in Taez, a besieged city in a bitter conflict between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and government forces backed by a Saudi-led military coalition.
“My friends study, but I don’t. They study in the seventh grade. I dropped out of school to help my parents and support my family,” Midian, wearing a torn T-shirt, told AFP.
After washing cars, Midian goes to help his father, Adnan Oud, a shoemaker, who says his decision not to send his son to school was difficult but inevitable, as the extra income was needed just to feed the family.
“To learn, 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 utter misery.”
The father said he himself could not attend school in the country, which was one of the poorest in the Middle East even before the war that devastated it for eight years.
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– “Illiterate” –
“My children and I are illiterate. I wanted my son to do better than me, but he will also become a shoemaker,” said Adnan. “This is not life!”
Yemen’s economy was already in crisis before the conflict began in 2014, when the Houthis seized the capital, Sana’a.
Since 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition intervened, hundreds of thousands of people have died directly or indirectly in the war, the UN notes.
The conflict has fueled displacement, the spread of disease and the collapse of infrastructure, and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
A UN-brokered cease-fire, which took effect on April 2 and has been extended twice, has brought an end to much of the country’s violence and eased some suffering.
The UN children’s agency UNICEF said the Arabian Peninsula country was facing a “severe education crisis”.
“Conflict and frequent interruptions in education … have a profound effect on learning as well as intellectual and emotional development,” AFP said.
War and the education crisis have damaged the mental health of 10.6 million children, according to UNICEF.
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 deteriorating infrastructure have exacerbated the problem, with at least one in four schools rendered unusable by the conflict.
– There are many dangers –
In Taez, schools reopened this month and more than 500,000 students joined classes despite the dangers of living in a city held by the government but surrounded by rebels blocking roads.
The Houthi siege “is hindering many of our students, as well as the importation of school supplies,” said Abdelwasi Shadad, head of education in the Taez region.
Despite the current ceasefire, there are many dangers for students, including gunfire.
In some areas, ground barriers have been installed to protect children on their way to school.
Ishrak Yahia, a teacher at a girls’ school, called the truce a “colossal failure” as the cordon remains in place and sporadic sniper fire continues.
“There are still students who are attacked on their way to school. Some were injured when they were on a school bus,” she told AFP.
Taez, which is surrounded by mountains, is one of the cities most affected by the war in Yemen.
So far, despite UN-sponsored talks, no progress has been made in opening the main roads leading to Yemen’s third city.
The siege has complicated the delivery of humanitarian aid and increased transport costs as goods must be transported over longer routes, depriving many Yemenis of access to basic services.
Malak Faisal says goodbye to his mother every day in case she does not return alive.
“We are in danger every day when we go to school. Rockets and snipers of the Houthis do not spare anyone.”