By Zahra Sethna
HARADH, Yemen, 17 February 2010 – Just a few months ago, the Yarmouk school at the heart of al-Mazrak, a village in north-western Yemen catered to fewer than 200 students. Now it serves more than 2,000.
The sudden influx began last August, when fighting between Yemeni Government forces and rebel fighters caused tens of thousands of families to flee their homes and take shelter in this remote desert area near the border with Saudi Arabia.
Abdullah Rozoom, 34, has served as Yarmouk’s headmaster for five years. Before the crisis, his problems at the school involved things like dealing with rowdy children at break time. Now, the soft-spoken educator has to tackle issues he never imagined.
About 70 per cent of the students in the school are in grade one, and most of them are attending school for the first time. The displaced children come from families that previously lived in areas without access to any public services.
School supplies and services
Three camps have been set up in the al-Mazrak area to provide more than 23,000 displaced people with shelter, food, water and sanitation. Services are also being provided to another 70,000 people scattered outside the camps. And these may be underestimates, as the number of displaced families in the area continues to grow.
UNICEF is one of several international organizations providing assistance and support to these vulnerable communities.
At the Yarmouk school, UNICEF has provided tents and educational materials, distributed school bags and supplies to students, ensured the provision of safe drinking water and trash containers, and assisted in the construction of latrines. The agency has also provided desks and computers for school staff and delivered training and support to teachers.
In emergency situations like the one now confronting Yemen, schools are critically important to the continued well-being of affected children. Besides providing for students’ basic needs and ensuring their right to education, schools provide safe spaces for these children, who often require protection from violence or exploitation. Schools also create an environment for distressed children’s psychological and emotional healing.
‘This school needs me’
To ease the situation for displaced children in al-Mazrak, UNICEF supported the recruitment of eight new teachers for the Yarmouk school – five men and three women – from among the displaced and local populations.
“We feel that they understand the situation better than anyone else,” says UNICEF Yemen Education Coordinator Tawfiq Radman.
Handling an expanded teaching staff is just one of many challenges with which Mr. Rozoom, the Yarmouk headmaster, must contend. Although there may be days when he longs for the quieter times before the conflict, he remains committed and says the difficult situation has helped improve his management skills. In spite of everything, he wouldn’t think of leaving now.
“This is my community,” says Mr. Rozoom, “and this school needs me.”