Landmines and wheelchairs in Sanaá

There is one basic fact difficult to divulge and get through: prior to the aggression on Yemen by Saudi Arabia and coalition of mercenaries with the silent approval and support of US Intelligence, situation in Yemen was already unbearably difficult.
What is known as the current Yemen had been a battle field of almost 20 conflicts, some overlapping, others extremely long, few still continuing.
A General I briefly met in 2011 prior to the revolution which ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh told me his job was to ´mine-clear certain areas of Yemen´. He had been working on it since 1992, almost 20 years.

A report by OCHA on children tormented by landmines dated July 2013 states: ´Landmines have plagued the people of Yemen for decades. In the 1960s, they were laid along the border that separated the north and south of the country, and they were a tragic feature of tensions throughout the 1990s.
More recently, Government and militant forces have been accused of using landmines between 2004 and 2011 in conflicts in Sa’ada Governorate in the north and Abyan Governorate in the south. In 2011 and 2012, antipersonnel mines were reportedly also used in and around Sana’a, and in March 2012, Yemen’s Ministry of Defense reported landmine casualties in Hajjah Governorate on the country’s north-west coast.
The number of mine-related civilian casualties climbed significantly in the third quarter of 2012, following an announcement by the military in June that they had ousted militants from Abyan. As a result, thousands of people who had fled the conflict returned home to areas that had been heavily mined.´

In the same report:  ´The Yemen Executive Mine Action Centre (YEMAC) is doing much of this work with the support of the UN Development Progamme […]. Between July 2011 and February 2012, YEMAC and its partners destroyed almost 290,000 explosive remnants of war, including almost 90,000 anti-personnel mines as well as anti-vehicle mines, shells and improvised explosive devices´.

We are talking about hundreds of thousands of bombs, with no exaggeration. This, prior to the war on Yemen in 2015.
Let it sink in that what has come after will require decades, if not a century, to assess, digest and clear.

Every personal memory now makes reference to prior and during the war (during because the war is still raging on Yemen).
There is one scene I have clear in mind. It belongs to the end of 2014.
As part of a national effort to reach those less fortunate, the Yemeni government had bought wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, prostethics and cranes for the disabled and was doing medical checkups in Sanaá. Those who could not be helped in Yemen were going to be flown either to India or Egypt for medical treatment.
The maimed were all from prior wars. Sanaá had been invaded by buses coming from almost all the governorates.
In our hotel we were hosting  people coming from the villages (mainly  from Hajjah and Amran). Some could barely walk, others were crawling. Limbs were missing in children and adults alike (mines do not stop exploding simply because a war is declared over).
In the lobby, in our offices, we had mountains of folded, shining, new wheelchairs ready to be distributed.
It was hectic, with loud voices.
Until I heard no more: before my eyes  the scene of mothers  taking pictures of the family united in front of the new gift, the wheel chair. They were smiling, they were joyous.
Who, in Europe, would take a selfie with a wheelchair?
I had to rush to the back of the  office crying and suffocating in tears. I was strangling myself with tears. I had just realised some families required 2, 3, 4 wheelchairs just for their children.

These same people are being bombed, every day, in Yemen. With an abundance of infamous, internationally banned cluster bombs.
Alhmdulillah, Yemenis say.

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Tareq Abdullah and no chance of survival in war-torn Yemen

Tareq Abdullah is only 10 years old.
He comes from an extremely indigent family of Hodeidah, Westerm Yemen, and  life has balanced the lack of money in his days with abundancy of illnesses and grief.
Tareq happens to be deaf, suffers from renal failure and has an enlarged heart.
With such a clinical record, chances of survival in war-torn Yemen are close to nil.
Chances of having a decent life in the current situation, none.

In Yemen, devastated by daily bombardments, the few hospitals still operating are on the brink of collapsing and there would not be, anyhow, a way of treating him. The country is under an air-land-sea siege and little or close to nothing, including medicines, are allowed to enter.
More than 20 million people, 80 per cent of the population, require humanitarian assistance.
So far, the request of humanitarian aid of $ 1.800 million for 2016, released the past month of February, has received a mere 12 %.

Tareq´s days are counted.
Tareq cannot afford even to dream. The world is distant to him and has failed him from birth, from day one.

We do not want Tareq to be forgotten. We do not want Tareq´s case to be considered a collateral damage of the war.
Is there, somewhere, in the world, someone out of the 7 billion people, who can help us?
Tareq´s case has been documented by the Rehabilitation and care Fund for people with disabilities in Sanaá (Bayt Meyad – behind the office of Education – Al-Sabyen Directorate Tel: 00967-1-619774 Fax: 00967-1-619231/5) and we hope, so hope, our plea will be heard.

Manal, a light for thousands of Yemeni disabled

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.

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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.
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´´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