icon icon icon icon icon icon icon

From under trees into classrooms: Yemeni students remain determined to learn despite all odds

A man standing in front of a group of children sitting under a tree

Young students study under trees in Sarar District of Abyan Governorate. Photo: Bassam Saleh/ CARE

Young students study under trees in Sarar District of Abyan Governorate. Photo: Bassam Saleh/ CARE

The prolonged conflict in Yemen has had its toll on children’s education and well-being. More than half of the 23.4 million people in need in Yemen are children. During 2022, it has been projected that 2.2 million children suffer from acute malnutrition, including 538,000 children expected to experience severe acute malnutrition.

Over two million school-age Yemeni girls and boys are out of school as poverty, conflict and lack of opportunities disrupt their education. While 2,916 schools across Yemen were destroyed, partially damaged, or utilized for non-educational purposes, the majority of the functional schools suffer from classroom overcrowding, reaching in some areas to more than 80 pupils per classroom.  Other challenges schoolchildren face includes the unavailability of toilets, water, electricity, textbooks, and supplementary teaching and learning tools.

To add fuel to the fire, two-thirds of teachers in Yemen – over 170,000 in total – have not received a regular salary for more than four years. This puts around four million additional children at risk of disrupted education or dropping out as unpaid teachers quit teaching to find other ways of providing for their families. The Education Cluster in Yemen estimates that 8.5 million need assistance, with about 1.2 million in acute need. And yet as of November 2022, the education sector has only seen under eight percent of the humanitarian funding required to be able to meet the needs.

When children are out of school, they face many risks and challenges, which can have dire consequences on both their present and their future. Boys and girls deprived of education are more likely to be trapped in a cycle of poverty and unfulfilled potential for the rest of their lives. They are more likely to be victim of violence, child labor and early marriage.

Despite the lack of minimum basics for learning, such as classrooms, desks, chairs, boards, and toilets, students in the Sarar District of Abyan Governorate in Southern Yemen would still rather study under trees than lose their education.

A girl wearing a red head scarf smiling
Mona*, 11, a sixth-grade student. Photo: Bassam Saleh/ CARE

Mona*, eleven years old, studies in the sixth grade in one of the neglected schools of Sarar District. Mona’s school didn’t have adequate classrooms and facilities. There were no chairs, desks, water, or electricity. This forced Mona and her mates to study under the trees surrounding their dilapidated school, suffering hot weather, dust, insects, and noise. Moreover, the lack of toilets in their school has forced Mona and her classmates to climb a long rough road returning to their village, located on top of a mountain, to relieve themselves back in their homes. Afraid of stray dogs and mosquitoes on the way back to their village, many young students refrain from using the toilet until they finish school, which can have serious implications on their health.

Reema*, twelve years old, is a seventh-grade student in Alnour* school in Sarar District. Reema’s school suffers from overcrowded classrooms where every four students share one chair and desk. Overcrowding in classrooms reduces students’ ability to pay attention and makes both learning and teaching processes very challenging. It leads to a low intake of students and increases dropout rates. It also affects the ability to prevent the spread of infectious diseases among students, including malaria, dengue fever, COVID-19, and other respiratory and skin diseases.

A woman in a black veil standing on a railing, looking out into the distance.
Reema*, twelve years old, is a seventh-grade student in Alnour* school. Photo Elyas Anis/ CARE

Waddah Saeed, 38 years old, a school principal from Sarar District, says: “Our school was in a concerning condition. Youngsters used to study under trees in hot weather, where diseases and harmful insects spread. They had to walk nearly three kilometers back to their home to relieve themselves because there were no toilets in the school. It broke my heart to see children facing many risks to access schools that are supposed to be a safe and pleasing space for them to learn and grow.”

A man in purple shirt and grey scarf standing outside of a building
Waddah Saeed, 38, a school principal from Sarar District. Photo Elyas Anis/ CARE

To address these challenges, with funding from Yemen Humanitarian Fund (YHF), CARE works to improve access to quality education through promoting safe learning environments that contribute to students’ emotional, mental, and physical well-being. CARE targeted four schools in Sarar district of Abyan Governorate to expand learning space by establishing and rehabilitating classrooms and sanitation facilities in these schools.

In the four schools targeted in Sarar, CARE established eight classrooms and eight gender and disability-sensitive toilets. CARE also installed a solar pumping system and water tanks for each school to ensure children have access to clean water. The project also provided learning materials and recreational kits, which include footballs, ball pumps, skipping ropes, puzzles, and other educational games, enhancing the learning experience for nearly 943 young students. The provision of learning materials was integrated with the provision of psychosocial support through training male and female teachers on the method of Education in Emergencies (EiE) and psychosocial support. Furthermore, students and teachers benefited from the hygiene awareness sessions and campaigns conducted in their schools.

Mona and her classmates were delighted to see their new classroom. “I’m so happy,” says Mona. “Our classroom is beautiful and safe. We also have a toilet with water, so I don’t have to return home to use the toilet. I also like the new games we are using in the class. Now I love school more than ever.”

“With the new classrooms and the extra desks, learning became easier as two students only share one desk instead of four,” adds Reema. “I’m in the seventh grade, but it is the first time I to see these learning games. They are fun and make learning a lot easier.”

A man teaching in a classroom with children attentively seated at desks, engaged in a learning environment.
Students are studying in the newly constructed classroom. Photo Elyas Anis/ CARE

“Both students and teachers in my school are grateful for rehabilitating the school,” says Waddah. “The intervention has made a positive change in the lives of children and teachers. The new classrooms and recreational kits give teachers enough space to convey information to students in a smooth and stimulating way. Training teachers and school administrators on psychosocial support and Education in Emergencies (EiE) methods help improve students’ emotional and mental well-being.”

“CARE’s and YHF’s interventions have had a huge impact on the continuity of the educational process in Sarar. Teachers are encouraged to teach, and many children have returned to school. This will have a great influence on the future of our children and the future of our Yemen,” he concludes.

People standing in front of a building with majestic mountains in the background.
One of the four targeted schools in Sarar after constructing new classrooms and toilets. Photo Elyas Anis/ CARE
Back to Top