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One size doesn't fit all: providing aid for people with disabilities in war-torn Yemen

A man sitting next to a rock wall

Belal’s dreams were stolen by the ongoing conflict in his home country Yemen

Belal’s dreams were stolen by the ongoing conflict in his home country Yemen

After six years of relentless war in Yemen, millions have lost their homes, their loved ones and their dreams of a better future. The ongoing armed conflict in the country has had dire consequences for countless families. There are over 3 million people with disabilities in Yemen, and the deteriorating health system and travel restrictions continue to turn many curable injuries into life-long disabilities.

Despite his young age, 20-year-old Belal from Taizz can’t study, work or have a normal life. Belal used to work on a motorcycle to provide for his family after his father’s death, but one horrific day shrapnel from a missile hit him while he was driving. Since then, he has been physically disabled. “I used to be a smart student,” he says. “I always wanted to be an engineer, but now I can’t fulfill my dream. This war robbed my dreams.”

Due to common stereotypes, in Yemen communities sometimes treat people with disabilities with pity and underestimation. The lack of adequate infrastructure and regulations to protect their rights in the street, in schools, institutions and workplaces hinders their ability to access proper shelter, education, health and livelihoods.

Belal’s mother Layla takes care of Belal and his two other siblings. The family left their home in the Althawrah sub-district of Taizz because they couldn’t afford the rent after Belal’s injury. Now they live in a small house without a suitable bathroom. “Belal needs surgical intervention outside Yemen, but due to Covid restrictions and a lack of money, he couldn’t travel,” she says.

Like Layla, Fadleah, a 60-year-old widow mother of eleven children from Taizz, takes care of her disabled children. Three of Fadleah’s children, aged 27 to 35 years old, suffer from genetic muscle atrophy since the age of thirteen. “My children are psychologically unstable,” she says with eyes full of tears. “My 35-year-old Raid is depressed and thinks too much of suicide. He doesn’t even want to see the sun.”

People with disabilities are one of the most socially excluded groups in situations of conflict and displacement. The lack of access to clean water, hygiene, sanitation and health services affects them severely. Due to the lack of adequate facilities, people with disabilities often can’t meet their hygiene needs by themselves, which makes them embarrassed and uncomfortable.

I feel embarrassed every time I need to defecate,” says Abdo, a 66-year-old father of four children, two daughters and two sons. Six years ago, Abdo was injured at work and became physically disabled. Because of poverty, he couldn’t get proper health care, which made his situation worse. “Sometimes, I just wish to die and relieve my children from the burden of taking care of me,” he whispers with a heartbreaking voice.


A man sitting with a beard and glasses
60-year-old Abdo works in a small shop in Taizz

During crises, people with disabilities often face double neglect. Some of the main barriers preventing people with disabilities from obtaining aid are linked to the lack of tailored assistance to meet their very special needs, as well as the lack of accessible information on aid services and the difficulty in accessing the services themselves, including lack of physical or financial access, lack of trained staff, or distance from the services.

With funding from the European Union, CARE provided life-saving assistance to conflict-affected communities in Salh, Al qahirah and Al mudhaffar districts of Taizz governorate, prioritising people with disabilities. The project provided alternative sanitation kits for people with disabilities to enable them to meet their hygiene needs in a dignified way. The kits contain a women’s and men’s urinal, as well as a chamber pot and a blanket.

“The kit is so useful and practical,” says Abdo. “I’m so thankful for this aid that maintains dignity.” As defecating became easier for Abdo, he started to work in a small shop to help his wife to provide some income for his family. Fadleah also feels grateful for the kits that supported her in taking care of her disabled children. She wishes her children can have wheelchairs so they can go out more often.

Like other people with disabilities, Belal longs to be integrated with the community and have some sort of a normal life. “I wish to travel and receive good heath treatment so I can go back to school and fulfill my dreams,” concludes Belal.

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