A country at war
Despite so much natural beauty in Yemen there are always reminders that this is a country at war – a war which has been so devastating to 22 million people. There are regular reminders of the conflict at different points in the journey and, while our minds are focused very much on Hodeidah and a potential impending ground attack, it is also with the millions of children directly and indirectly affected by the horrendous conflict across Yemen
There are constant check-points and planning even a simple journey takes huge resources to ensure that it is as safe as possible. On a daily basis, our teams can’t actually access some of the neediest children simply because we aren’t granted permission.
Breakthroughs and war
The combination of poverty and war ensures that Save the Children’s mandate that we save the lives of children under five, that they’re protected, and that they can access quality education are a constant in the delivery of our work.
I do believe we can reach these breakthroughs through concerted effort across governments, communities, local organizations, multi-lateral and bi-lateral actors and Save the Children.
Despite this it will be very hard in Yemen. With only 12 years to go until our goal of 2030 there is so much to do and the single most important challenge to block these achievements for children is the war.
Reaching Hajja and meeting the team
Save the Children opened an office in Hajja in January 2017. The team’s enthusiasm and passion for the work is clear.
We left the city on Thursday morning and headed down through the mountains to Baniqais District – the poorest within Hajja. Searing heat greeted us as we stepped out of the vehicle to have a look at the central water tank that Save the Children has put in to serve the Health Centre and nearby houses in the local community. It is a tank fed by a network of eleven wells, also supported by us.
Later we visited the Health Centre itself to see more of the rehabilitation work that we have been supporting there. We have added a laboratory and clinic on site for malaria as the plans are to convert this Health Centre into a District Hospital to serve this desperately poor and under-resourced district.
We also intend to extend our Water, Sanitation & Hygiene work to cover more of the district’s water needs. This will relieve the burden on women and especially girls who can be seen carrying water for 5 or 6 kilometres from the nearest well to their homes. Water carrying can be the single most important contributing factor to girls dropping out of school early.
Salaries for health workers
One of the key issues in Yemen for both health workers and teachers is that they don’t receive their salaries. We do provide health workers with incentives while as part of our program. However, our last grant expired at the end of June 2018 and the health staff are now effectively working as volunteers. The Senior Doctor of the facility has left to work in Sana’a to support her family – the team hope she will return when the next funding comes through.
The water system was working perfectly during my visit with plenty of fresh water available throughout the clinic. We visited on a Thursday, which is the weekend in Yemen, and so the Health Centre was closed. However, they operate a 24-hour service for emergencies.
Acute diarrhoea, cholera and malaria are common – but dangerous – issues. In March of this year alone, 1,200 cases of malaria were dealt with by the health centre. I met the pharmacist who, for the time being, had a good supply of basic drugs including antibiotics and ant-malarial drugs. Just these two types of drugs save children’s lives.
The centre also has a dedicated nutrition section where mothers get advice on the best food for their children based on what is available locally and malnourished children can get support. In this district alone, food baskets are given monthly to 1,200 families with special food for children to build them back to their ideal weight.
Hajja Hospital and Paediatric Unit
We returned to Hajja City where our first stop was the main hospital in Hajja. Here, Save the Children has installed a solar power system on the hospital’s roof. A huge array of panels that provide electricity to the hospital so that they can deliver essential tertiary services to the Governorate population (about 2.2 million).
Near to the hospital, we have renovated a large building which will become the paediatric unit for children across Hajja. This will provide children’s health care from nutrition, to curing childhood killer diseases and nutrition support to mothers and their children.
Delivering in conflict
We have about 614 staff and numerous volunteers in the Yemen Team. They are working under incredibly difficult circumstances, but they are delivering to some of the neediest children in the world.
Staff continually have to worry about their own families and their own children as well as the huge numbers of children that we support through our work. Many staff stay in places like Hajja during the week with all of its potential and real insecurity and return to their families at weekends.
Our expatriate staff also do an incredible job with severe restrictions on their movement every day but still maintaining the drive and commitment to make a success of Save the Children’s Yemen Humanitarian Programme.
As the programme gears up to a Category 1 humanitarian response, I was left with a strong sense of hope from the visit. This is built on the excellent staff that I met both national and international combined with some really powerful work on the ground for vulnerable children and communities. Despite the war and the suffering in such a massive and complex crisis, we are delivering what is needed and are looking to do even more.