Sunday, February 15, 2015

Education Is Yemen's Hope

Education is the key to progress and one of the most important investments a country can make in its people and is vital in reducing poverty and inequality by creating opportunities for sustainable and viable economic growth. Nelson Mandela said "Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world"In a country like Yemen where the illiteracy rate of both sexes (15 years and above) is almost 40 per cent (according to UNICEF, 60 percent of adult women in Yemen are illiterate, compared to 30 percent of men), education and the empowerment of the women and youth is an imperative necessity for any concrete development in Yemen.

Only 5% of Yemen's government budget has been allocated to education, while 30 to 40 percent of the nation’s budget goes toward defence and security spending. Therefore, the government has been providing less than 10 percent of the actual needs of schools. In addition, 70 percent of schools and students in Yemen are in rural areas, which created difficulty in providing services, and resulted in about 300 thousand students in 616 schools studying under trees and in inappropriate locations and according to media reports there are 2 million students across the country who have no chairs, although the real figures could be more. Some classes in Yemeni towns and cities, including the capital Sanaa, are overcrowded, with no proper classrooms or desks.

This is how students are taught in some rural areas in Yemen
Other classrooms in a rural areas in Yemen
Many schools, including in the capital Sanaa, don't have enough chairs or desks for students
Yemen also suffers from low-quality teaching and facilities and high absenteeism rates at schools.  Just 63 percent of school-aged youth in Yemen completed primary school in 2010, and one in four third-graders cannot read at all.  Poverty has forced some families to chose their child's labour or early marriage (in the case of females, especially in the rural areas) over education. The lack of trained teachers, especially women has been another factor effecting education in Yemen. According to a recent UNESCO report 18 percent of teachers have university degrees and only 60 percent hold high school degrees. The gender gap among teachers in Yemen is also wide, and has been a deterrent to girls’ school attendance since some conservative families will not allow female members to be taught by men. In 2010-2011, only 28% of teachers in government primary and secondary schools were female. 

Millions of dollars in foreign aid has been pumping into Yemen over the years to sustain the economy or address emergency situations, yet only a small portion has been aimed towards planning longterm development projects which invest in the future of Yemen, such as education. In the absence of the proper monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, much of those funds have has been going to corrupt officials. While the US aid to Yemen has predominantly been channeled towards counter terrorism rather than education. A recent report by Rand Corp pointed that weak and frail states, such as Yemen, can’t absorb security cooperation aid and the best results came from “non-material aid, such as education, law enforcement..etc.” Rand explained that investment in human capital has large payoffs.

Yemen's central government's widespread corruption along with its weakness and ineffectiveness in controlling much of the country, has led to a lack of provision in public services needed to improve the educational sector. Repairing the infrastructure, building new facilities, revising the syllabus, providing sufficient learning materials, training teachers, narrowing teacher-student ratios, and addressing gender disparities—especially in the rural areas are educational priorities that Yemen must address. 

Alternatively to relying solely on government institutions, there is a need and demand for the civil society to assume a more dominant role in non-partisan aid delivery. The country can not rely on the government alone, there is a need to converge all official and popular efforts towards achieving this goal. Indeed some Yemenis have started their own initiatives. Yemen Relief and Development Forum (YRDF), an umbrella charity set up by the Yemeni diaspora in the UK, aims to use the power of the Yemeni diaspora in the UK to help Yemen to move forward. Yemen Education and Relief Organisation (YERO) is non governmental organisation, aimed primarily at education, has been working with some of the most deprived children in Yemen's capital city, Sana'a, for the past 10 years. By enrolling children onto school, and giving them homework classes and additional learning opportunities through extra-curricular activities it has enabled them to build a better future for themselvesDirector and founder of YERO, Miss Nouria Nagi OBE speaks about about her work in this video  

Malcom X said "Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today." For any real reform to happen in Yemen it is pivotal to invest in the education of the future generation and Yemen'civil society has a huge role and responsibility towards achieving that.

N.B: YERO is a charity which relies on the goodwill and generosity of the general public. To now more on ways to help click here

Saturday, February 14, 2015

What is love...?

It is February 14th again ... that day of the year where people express their emotions to their loved ones with cards, chocolate, flowers, teddy bears or various gifts, while some others prefer expressing it with meaningful gestures. Well, I have to be honest, Valentine was a special day to me too when I was much younger, but as I grew older...and wiser, I felt it was more of a "Hallmark" commercial occasion. It made me think, do we really need an annual day to remind ourselves to tell our loved ones that we love them? That we are blessed to have them in our lives? And that they mean a lot to us?

Expressing our love to those who matter should be done on a daily basis. We should go further than that, if not everyday than at least today. We should show and express our love to others beyond our families and friends. We should extend our love to fellow human beings. We should live by the teaching of "love to others what you love to yourself."

As a parent and mother, I want the best for my children. I want them to be safe, nurtured and nourished. I want them to have a good education, follow their dreams and make a positive change in this world. As a human being, I want that for all the children in the world and I wish that all parents can fulfill that.

Instead of the animosity, hatred and violence we are witnessing today, let us start spreading love, peace and tolerance around the world. Let us start by caring for those beyond our circles, by offering a helping hand, by creating awareness, by donating for those in need and by offering whatever is in our power to make others lives better. That to me is also...LOVE.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Holy Month of Ramadan

Who hasn’t heard of the month of Ramadan? Well, if you haven’t and are curious to know what it is all about, I will shed light on what Ramadan is and why is it Holy to Muslims.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic Lunar Calendar, and is observed by more than 1 billion Muslims across the world. It is the month in which Muslims fast during the hours of daylight. Ramadan is Holy to Muslims because it was during this month that the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammed (PBUH), in the night known as Laillat-ul-Qadr.

The word Ramadan derives from the word ‘Ramada’ which means intense heat and dryness, the feeling Muslims experience during fasting.  This year Ramadan will be in the middle of summer and is expected to begin on June 28th or 29th, depending on the viewing of the crescent of Ramadan. Muslims celebrate the arrival of the holy month by greeting each other with phrases such as "Ramadan Karim" i.e Ramadan is generous or "Ramadan Mubarak" which means Ramadan is blessed.

Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. Muslims in Ramadan abstain from food, drink, smoking and any physical relation between married couples from the first ray of sunlight till sunset. However, Ramadan is much more than just not eating and drinking. During Ramadan Muslims refrain themselves in many ways, every part of the body observes the fast and is restrained. The tongue must be restrained from backbiting and gossip. The eyes must be restrained from looking at anything inappropriate.  The hand must be restrained from touching anything that doesn’t belong to it. The ears must be restrained from listening to idle talk or obscene words. The feet must be restrained from going towards anything sinful.
Ramadan is a spiritual month, a time to purify the soul and refocus attention on God. It is a time for Muslims to be more submissive whereby they purify their behavior by trying to give up bad habits and attempting to be better persons. They practice good manners and speech, increase their good deeds, give more charity, intensify prayers and spend more time reading the Holy Quran.
By experiencing hunger and thirst during Ramadan, Muslims mentally and physically feel what those who are underprivileged, who have little to eat every day of the year, go through. By gaining this awareness, Muslims sympathize with them and tend to be more generous towards them throughout the year.
Just before sunrise, the Fajr prayer, it is common to have a meal known as “Suhoor’ and directly after sunset, Maghreb prayer, the fast is broken with the main meal that is called “Iftar.” This meal is a special time that Muslims often share with family or friends.
The poor and the needy are also looked after during the month. Large tents in the streets or near mosques distribute free meals to those in need. Ramadan has a special atmosphere. It is a time that brings families and communities together, through the Iftar gatherings.

In summary Ramadan is a time to practice self-restraint; learn patience and perseverance, a time to cleanse the body and soul from impurities and re-focus one's self on the worship of God. It teaches lessons of equality, empathy and humility. It is a social system, which brings people together, makes people do good deeds and have more feelings for each other.

Wishing those of you who observe the month a blessed and peaceful Ramadan, and may God accept all our fasting and prayers.