My first introduction to the humanitarian field was in March 2013 when I joined Save the Children in Yemen, and I was a graduate fresh from college. To be very honest, at first all that mattered was finding a stable, well-paid job. It wasn’t until a few months later that I realized this job is far more than just a pay check; this is a commitment for life, and money comes at the very bottom of the list of reasons why I’m proud to be a humanitarian.
A few months after I joined the organisation, I started to learn more about Save the Children’s mission – what we do, and what breakthroughs we inspire to relieve the suffering of children around the world. While learning about Save the Children’s history, I came across words that changed my perspective and career forever:
“Thousands of people . . . tired, sick and hungry. I had to carry my youngest brother. One day I saw that he was not moving or crying for bread any more. I showed him to my mother and she saw that he was dead. We were glad that he was dead because we had nothing to feed him on”
An Armenian child spoke these words to Save the Children in 1921, when we were responding to the devastating famine. I can only imagine the extent of suffering and crippling hunger that a mother must experience for her to be relieved that her baby had died.
Eglantyne Jebb and Dorothy Buxton, the founders of Save the Children, were two sisters who refused to stay silent about the suffering of children who were dying from hunger. One hundred years ago, they started the fight to protect children and their rights. And when I read those words, I knew that I would continue their fight for the rest of my life.
The fight in Yemen
Sadly, children’s rights continue to be neglected or deliberately flouted around the world – perhaps nowhere more so than in my home, Yemen, which is now the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. In war-torn Yemen, children are pre-destined to suffer and their lives sometimes end before they can properly begin.
The challenges start during pregnancy when mothers often skip meals due to poverty, which can disrupt the baby’s development. During a child’s first years, lactating mothers are often undernourished and eventually their babies could face malnourishment and grow up with irreversible development damage – if they survive.
Malnourished children are then far more vulnerable to preventable diseases, such as diarrhoea and respiratory tract infections. Cholera and diphtheria – disease which belong in history books – are rife in Yemen, putting children’s lives on the line.
If they survive these challenges, children then face the reality of living with the violent realities of war, extreme hunger, and displacement. They are forced to flee their homes facing injury and death, or are exposed to the risk of exploitation and abuse. And through all of this, they often have to miss school, leaving them with no future to look forward to.
Many children are dying in a conflict they didn’t choose, never to be heard of ever again.
The worst place in the world to be a child
After more than three years of war, Yemen is a perfect storm of humanitarian, protection and economic crises. The fighting has had a devastating impact across the country; the level of destruction brought upon infrastructure, houses, hospitals, schools, and other public services has sent the country back decades in time.
In Yemen, children’s bodies are pulled from the rubble of bombed-out buildings. One moment they are running around, playing at a wedding. The next moment they are lying in hospitals soaked in blood, missing a limb, or missing their families.
In Yemen, children are trapped inside their houses, caught in cross-fire, or traumatised by bombs, landmines and bullets.
In Yemen, a bus full of children gets hit by an airstrike and it is deemed a “legitimate target”.
I won’t give up
Despite the challenges, I stand in solidarity with humanitarian colleagues all over the world who won’t waiver on the pledge we took to reach the vulnerable communities.
At Save the Children, we will always strive to reach vulnerable children – wherever they are, and no matter what challenges they face. We will continue the fight that was started one hundred years ago by Eglantyne Jebb and Dorothy Buxton. When conflict happens, we will be there.
I will always honour my commitment to the children on Yemen, simply because no child is born to die. I’ll fight so that children in my country can grow up. I’ll fight so that children my country have a future.
By Hassan Basha