Yemen: Listening to children’s stories is key

Two displaced brothers in Yemen.

Brothers displaced from the north of Yemen.

By Fatima Al-Ajel, Save the Children Yemen

Every child in this world has the right to live, to education, to protection and good health.

Yet today in Yemen children aren’t being afforded their rights. They aren’t being allowed to survive, thrive, learn or grow. Their voices aren’t being heard and unless things change soon, their potential is in huge danger of remaining unfulfilled.

Children are bearing the brunt of a violent conflict that is tearing my country apart.

On average, 8 children are killed everyday, even more are injured.

Listen to children

Before the crisis I managed a project that promoted the rights of children. It gave them an opportunity to be heard and influence government policy that affected their lives.

I strongly believe that we should listen to children talk about their experiences and their ideas about what support they need. I am always amazed by their honesty, by the way they can make something very complicated so simple.

I love how children are not trained to tell you what you want to hear. Often what they say can be so powerful that it touches your heart immediately.

Taking action

With this in mind, my team recently began a child-led assessment in which 20 Yemeni children were trained to conduct a needs assessment with other children who have been displaced to their areas.

This was children interviewing other children, hearing their accounts and highlighting the issues that they face as a consequence of this conflict.

It was amazing to see the participants so committed. They volunteered their time and efforts to support others affected by this crisis.

I saw how they used the same language to express ideas, listened to the children’s experiences with compassion and hoped that things will change for the better soon.

A children’s emergency

After conducting the interviews, one boy said to me: “I realise now how much children are the most affected group in this stupid war.”

Another told me: “I heard that most children don’t know about their rights. Some don’t even know the meaning of the word ‘rights’. You [Save the Children] and we need to do our best to raise awareness for these children.”

Yemen is truly a children’s emergency.

The numbers of those affected are shocking: over 5.9 million children are now food insecure; 1.8 million are at risk of malnutrition;  9.8 million do not have adequate access to water or sanitation; 2.9 million are out of school and at least 624,000 have been displaced internally.

Meanwhile the constant airstrikes and conflict mean that children are particularly vulnerable to violence, abuse, exploitation and even death.

Taking time to talk

It is in times like these that listening to children is most important. Both to understand their fears and daily challenges but also to provide an opportunity for them to speak and be heard.

One of the female participants told me after the assessment: “I felt like most of the children that I interviewed were still scared. One told me she begs her brother to provide food for their sick mother while her other smaller brothers bring the water – this made me really sad and realise how hard the situation is for them…

But afterwards I saw that one of the displaced girls was happy and smiling, and when I asked her why, she said that it was because she finally had found someone to talk to about herself.”

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