Three years after the escalation of the conflict in Yemen, the country has the greatest level of humanitarian needs in the world. Over 70% of the country’s population is in need of some form of humanitarian assistance; millions lack access to safe water and more than 60% of Yemenis are threatened by severe food shortages. Compounding these challenges is a fast spreading cholera outbreak that makes the already dire humanitarian crisis even worse. Over 300,000 people are suspected to have con-tracted cholera across Yemen. The health system is in near collapse and other public services have become almost non-existent.
Dedicated humanitarians are working round the clock to meet the staggering needs. They too are living in and experiencing the crisis. In Hajja governorate of Yemen, CARE International is providing life-saving humanitarian assistance to communities; providing safe water, in-creasing people’s access to food and enhancing liveli-hood options. A team consisting of eight humanitarian workers spend three to four days a week visiting villages – most of which are remote and hard to reach – provid-ing the help needed.
Mona Mubarak Al Kawkabane is one of the field offic-ers with CARE international in Yemen. For the last three years, she and her colleagues have also experienced the effects of the prolonged conflict in Yemen. At the same time, they have dedicated their time to help the people from their communities to cope in a context that pre-sents constant challenges.
Mona shares a small apartment in the city with her col-leagues Ola and Kayeleh. The three women are not origi-nally from Hajjah and have no family ties in the city. This was a difficult adjustment for them in the begin-ning because in Yemen it is considered unusual for wom-en to live by themselves. They have supported each oth-er through these challenges and being both friends and colleagues has made a big difference.
One person per hour is dying from cholera in Yemen. Photo: Abdulhakim Ansi/CARE
Against all traditions: a female aid worker provides clean water in Yemen
My colleagues and I have a very early start to our work day. We need to be ready by 6.00 am to leave since most of the villages are far away and it can take up to four hours to reach them. Hajjah is mountainous and the road infrastructure is poor. So we spend a lot of time on the road.
The road can be a tricky place. We are stopped several times at security checkpoints. Sometimes we wait a few hours there before getting cleared to move on. Often we will be asked to present a male guardian (Mahram) – a requirement for females to be accompa-nied by either their husband, father or brother while travelling. This can either delay our mission or stop it entirely.
In the villages, our team visits families in their houses and talks to the inhabitants in order to understand their needs. For most families, the needs are over-whelming and they seek any possible assistance.
In Al Shagadra village, which is located at the top of a hill, the greatest challenge is access to water. I met 16-year old Aysha, who until recently used to walk for three hours just to fill up a ten litre bottle with water. On her way back, she would end up drinking a large share of the water because it is extremely hot and she has to carry the bottle a long way back. The well or water tank where she collected the water was very dirty and not safe for drinking.
CARE has since constructed a water well in the village. This has drastically reduced the distance that girls like Aysha need to cover to collect water. We regularly test the water for contamination and treat it to ensure that families like Aysha’s use safe water for drinking and cooking.
The families we meet and talk to are very generous and often invite us to have meals with them. Even in the midst of this crisis, Yemenis have not lost their generosity. This encourages us to do even more to help. Depending on how much we can get done throughout the day, our team may choose to spend the night in the village or return to the city.
On most evenings, I reflect on my life and why I help people. I recall how as a young girl, I would sit out-side my house and watch children of my age go to school. One day, I followed the children to their school. My father was very angry and demanded to know why I had gone to school without his permis-sion. I told him how much I wanted to get an educa-tion. My father became very emotional and in the end sent me to school. Now I am the first woman from my village that has earned a university degree. I know that I am working where I’m needed the most. I will continue to help, as it makes me very happy. This is my greatest achievement.
“My father was very angry and de-manded to know why I had gone to school without his permission. I am the first woman from my village that has earned a university degree.” Mona Mubarak Al Kawkabane