Manal is in her mid-twenties, an active, passionate and smart young woman. Yemeni, she holds a University degree from the Faculty of Arts in Sanaá in English literature and, indeed, she masters perfect English. The feeling you have when you talk to her, see her moving around, watch her dealing with people and friends, is that Manal is full of energy, determined though extremely humble.
´´I am planning to study abroad. I would like to have a master degree in management, one day´´, she says but her situation is not easy. She does not know when she will ever be able to travel abroad as she is looking for a ´´scholarship anywhere´´ whilst no one helps Yemeni students, especially these days. Born in the 90s, she has already witnessed a war in 1994 between South and North Yemen, the Arab Spring of 2011, the revolution in 2014, a coup d´etat in January 2015, countless number of terroristic attacks and almost one year of aggression against her country. Not a simple aggression: Manal, like all Yemenis, has been under airstrikes almost every day since 2am of March 26, 2015 when neighbouring Saudi Arabia, along with a coalition of nine countries, decided to restore the government of fugitive president Abd Rabbuh Mansoor Hadi. No matter the circumstances, the sleepless nights because of the missiles pouring from the sky, you know tomorrow morning Manal will be at the office working – restlessly – with her best smile, paying attention to virtually everyone, running around.
When I first met Manal, she apologised she could not send me an email: her office was in an area under air-strikes. I received the email the day after, and it was Friday, weekend for her.
Sometimes I wonder if she gets any sleep at all. Manal has opened a group in Facebook: Yemeni Peace & Coexistence where peace and coexistence are words she personally chose (and she likes to stress it) and is busy online till late, discussing important issues, never forgetting anyone´s birthday or need, uniting Yemenis.
One year ago Manal started working, as Project Manager, at the Rehabilitation and Care Fund for People with Disabilities in Sanaá. The job would be difficult in any moment in a country like Yemen where there is virtually no national health service, 50% of the population lives below the poverty line, where lack of food, water, electricity, basic infrastructure is the reality on the ground. The incomprehensible war waged on her country has basically devastated everything. According to the United Nations, Yemen is witnessing the worst humanitarian crises of our times.
Her enthusiasm, when talking about her job, what she sees every day, is cracked by a deep sorrow: ´´The tragedy of this aggression on people with disabilities in Yemen is apocalyptic. They are suffering and have been forced to face many obstacles during these past, harsh, twelve months. It´s like a horrible, nightmarish year with the killing of thousands of innocent people.´´
´´I am particularly concerned about the impact of this war on people who have to deal with physical disabilities for the rest of their life and this includes visual and hearing disabilities. We had an unprecedented increase in auditory disabilities, for instance, and it is a result of the pressure generated by massive explosions. Visual disabilities are usually a result of sharpers and cluster bombs which cause strong pressure leading to the explosion of windows with a direct attack on one or both eyes.
Physical disabilities regard, mainly, amputation of legs or hands as a result of direct injuries, that is: being hit by flying fragments or collapsing buildings. Many of the people seeking help – and now considered handicapped – were injured by the internationally banned cluster bombs.
Appalling, for the first time in our history, we have started witnessing new-born babies with birth defects, babies mentally impaired or even having cancer due to the gases and toxic emissions of bombs dropped on the entire country´´.
Manal gains strength when she talks about the Fund´s role: ´´We offer all the requirements needed, starting from basic prosthetic devices such as bathroom chairs, crutches, medical mattresses to avoid skin ulcer, walkers, optical sticks for blind people. We provide medicines for most of the disabled who are registered with the Fund and arrange for surgeries in public and private hospitals, all sponsored by us. When possible, we finance medical trips abroad if the disability or the case cannot be handled in Yemen.´´
She adds that the Fund sponsors and provides physical therapy services throughout a network of over 25 centres in various governatorates. Educational services are a huge pride for Manal: ´´We take care of circa 120 associations and centres which provide an academic platform allowing the disabled to study. The project stretches throughout large portions of Yemen and grants scholarships for postgraduated studies.´´ When I ask her who is financing all these activities, Manal replies: ´´The Fund used to generate its income from donating companies and here comes the disaster! Most of the companies have been destroyed by the air strikes and we lost all the support. We can no longer offer even the basic assistance to anyone and the main issue is that the number of disabled people is increasing due to this unjust war.´´ Every day Manal goes to her office and knows there will be something like 100 new people asking for help. ´´It is heartbreaking´´, she admits, ´´when you know you can do little for anyone´´. But she is never discouraged, at least not for long. Manal has been writing to all organisations abroad. Personal letters, signed with her name, asking for help in the name of the Fund.
Today Manal has been busy with one of the biggest achievements of the Fund: the graduation party for 26 hearing impaired students who graduated in architecture and engineering. Thinking all this happened in Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the world, and in time of war, you can only shiver with pride and emotion.
´´There are so many things I want to accomplish in the future. I want to continue working in the humanitarian field, especially relating to people with the special needs, especially working close to the poor with disabilities. I want to travel abroad, have a master degree in management, gain many information from different important people, return to Yemen and help my country.´´
When I ask her if I could use her real name, Manal, in the article, she smiles: ´´You can use my real name and my last name too. My name is Manal Al Marwani. ´´
Rehabilitation and care Fund for people with disabilities Republic of Yemen-Sana’a Bayt Meyad – behind the office of Education – Al-Sabyen Directorate Tel: 00967-1-619774 Fax: 00967-1-619231/5