The impossible task of being the parent of a sick child in war-torn Yemen

A telephone chat with a friend, in Sanaa, turnt into this: a cry for help.
I asked my friend to ink down our conversation which I share hoping the world will not look away. Not another time, not this time; because we know we cannot stop wars, we understood too well we cannot lift embargoes, go and feed the starving or individually block inconsiderate arms sales to choleric nations. But we can help.
Here is what my friend had to say:

‘My name is Qasim Alshawea. I am a Yemeni citizen living in our Capital, Sanaa. Our city has faced – along with Saada on the border with Saudi Arabia – most of the aerial attacks of the Saudi-led campaign.
I am a volunteer with Your Ability Organization, one of many local NGOs founded and based in the Capital.
Our NGO receives limited support both locally and internationally, yet, Your Ability NGO has carried out several relief operations in different areas of Yemen and organized a number of training seminars and workshops relating to health.

On Thursday Feb 2 2016 I met Mohamed Ahmed, father of two kids affected by cancer. He was looking for help. Mohamed briefed out his story: “I have come from my village in Taiz after people donated  me the transportation fee to  Sana’a´´.

The entire story of Mohamed Ahmed rotates around his children, Gaza and Mohamed:
“My six year old daughter Gaza  has cancer in her tongue. It has been so since she was one. I visited many hospitals and doctors hoping to find a real medicine that would treat my daughter’s – most of the times -fatal condition but till now nothing has happened. Or changed . According to the National Oncology Center’s medical reports by Dr. Nabil Alhakeme in Sanaa “Gaza Mohamed’s soft tissue mass of the tongue shows xerodema pigmentosum with the first signs showing four years ago.’’ 

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One of the last pictures of Gaza – photo via Nabil Al-Wadai

 

The Doctor confirmed the only solution would be an urgent surgical intervention, possibly with tongue transplant, but due to the war and the most complicated situation the country is facing, the doctors could not proceed.

I, hence,  contacted Dr. Karim of Mona Relief Organisation and we worked on the travel’s preparations to bring Gaza out of Yemen. Passport, document, everything was ready. But not Sanaa airport: it was closed due to the Saudis’ blockade on Yemen. No flights allowed out of Yemen.

Gaza remained bedridden suffering the pains of hell until death took her from her parents. Her parents’ pain, though, did not end:  it continues through their second child Mohamed, two years old , with the same cancer of his sister Gaza.

The siege forces Mohamed to wait for his turn after his sister.

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Mohamed has never lost his smile – photo via Nabil Al-Wadai

 

People in Yemen face the worst humanitarian circumstances due to the Saudi-led coalition strangling embargo on Yemen.
It is more than a tragedy  watching thousands families barely having a meal per day (if lucky) and 3.1 milions internally displaced, forced to live in makeshift tents and camps with no water, food, medical aid. Or worse: parents literally picking up the body parts of their kids fallen under airstrikes. Homes, schools, hospitals: nowhere is safe in Yemen as bombs are being dropped everywhere.

My friend proceeds:
Jamal Abdullah is a displaced from Taiz, the city which has been witnessing engulfing fights between the militants supported by KSA and UAE against  the Houthi/Saleh forces.
Jamal told me: “I fled to Sana’a hoping to find a safe place for me and my family. As you can see  here I live with my kids in this tent which someone  from Saada  has given me, opening his land to us,  but my daughter  Al-anood has broken my heart. Al-anood  has leukemia. She is only seven years old , and she needs blood transfusions every two days in Al-Kuwait hospital in Sana’a.”

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Al-anood, the ever smiling girl – photo via Qasim Alshawea

 

Jamal concluded: “I live difficult circumstances due to the Saudi war and siege, and sometimes I and my children remain two days without food in order to earn a little bit of money to buy medicines for Al-anood, to give her courage and fight the cancer”.

My friend ends his message with:
It is a hard task to be a parent in Yemen: you know you are going to lose your child, either because of illness or under the bombs. The country remains closed, abandoned to its destiny.
We are trying to help at least the other two kids and save their lives. If  anyone would like to help please contact us through the NGO’s social media websites:

Your Ability Organization for Development
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Twitter https://twitter.com/YourAbility_org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/your.abilities.or

 

cover photo: Mohamed Ahmed with Gaza and Mohamed – photo via Nabil Al-Wadai

 

Eva and grains of sand for Yemen

Nomen omen, the name is a sign. Her name comes from Hebrew and is strictly connected with life. Like an explosion of life.
Nomen omen: Eva perhaps could not have any other name. Living in Barcelona, Spain, she embodies the ecleticism of one of the most beautiful and coreographic cities in the world.

Eva writes and talks the same way: in a flow. In less than two minutes, she sums up her life, her memories and what she would save: ‘If I had to choose a trip, it would be Panama, the first time I travelled alone. The trip which changed my life, definitely Yemen and Sanaá which is the city I carry in my heart.  A country that has it all: Colombia, whilst Tibet to me encompasses all the landscapes I may long for. A moment to be forever remembered: the call to the prayer from the terrace of Burj al Salam Hotel in Sana’a. A people.. let´s see: Nicaraguans. For a break I would choose to go always to Bratislava and if I had to choose a greeting and a word, they would respectively be Namasté! and Inshallah… An island: Procida in Italy, a unique place: Socotra, no doubt! I will always bring along the memories of Punta Gallinas, Colombia..’ and it´s hard to stop her until she says: ´Eternal gratitude will always be to Ethiopia for what it has taught me. And the life-turning moment: that night on a beach in Socotra ….’

She admits that one of the greatest pleasures, to her, is to travel and meet people: ‘That moment when you grab the backpack and head out to see what´s on the other side. I like to travel alone, without too much haste, staying where I feel happy. More than 25 years ago I travelled around the world, and I sincerely believe that there is no better way to get rid of your fears and prejudices. Travelling broadens the mind and allows you (if you travel with your eyes and heart open) to establish relations with different cultures, speak different languages, see life from other prisms. Travelling is the greatest antidote to racism and xenophobia. Without any doubt, it is the element which makes me think and act as I do.

Why Sanaá is the moment of your life?
‘For years I had, hanging on my refrigerator,  a picture of the Old City of Sana’a I had  cut out from a report by National Geographic. It more or less said: “If you love travelling, when you see the Old City of Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, you can die in peace as you’ve seen the most beautiful city in the world.”
That photograph and message nested in my head for years and I really wanted to go and see this wonder. Then, as it usually happens with me, I simply grabbed my backpack and went.
On the very first night I spent in Sana’a, I went to have  tea on the terrace of the  Burj Al Salam Hotel (where eventually I would end up meeting the person who became one of my best friends and Solidarios sin Fronteras Coordinator in Yemen). At 6 pm, while sipping my tea and smoking shisha, the sun was setting and lights of the city were beginning to shine. It was then that the Imam started calling for the prayer. His call was invading everything: I became very emotional and cried. It was the most amazing moment I had ever lived.  I fell in love with the city and the entire country. It still lasts.’

Travelling, to Eva, has paved the way to cooperation and helping. A natural consequence.
‘I started being active in the world of cooperation and humanitarian aid in 1997, occasionally working for Vicente Ferrer Foundation. It planted a seed in me which silently started  growing. Until I went to volunteer in Ethiopia in 2004. Everything changed during that trip. I’ve been volunteering in Ethiopia for over 12 years now and occasionally with the “Social Centre Tio Antonio” NGO in Nicaragua – working with people with disabilities – and also with SOS Himalaya Foundation Iñaki Ochoa de Olza, which operates in Nepal. But, in March 2015, something happened that would change my life forever ‘

To some, March 2015 will always define the war on Yemen and all which has come along.
‘In March 2015 a coalition of Arab countries – with the support of the US, Britain and France (and European arms dealers and producers, my country Spain among them) attacked Yemen starting a devastating war, silenced by the West and which already has more than 32.000 dead and wounded that the world ignores. At that time, out of pure love for Yemen – a country I already had visited on three occasions and where I have people I love dearly – I decided to create the NGO Solidarios sin Fronteras. It is not an NGO aimed exclusively at Yemen. It is a humanitarian NGO ready to assist any country in need. Fact is that the silence of the West and the nonexistence of Spanish NGOs helping Yemen (or Spain as a nation, like all the others) made us decide to start working for Yemen.’

When did you actually start?
‘The idea came in the first weeks of the aggression, after receiving images from my Yemeni friends. The horror of what was happening was so appalling that I found it impossible not to look, not to get involved . As Saramago said: “I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind. Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see” I could not not see.
So one day I launched the idea to my best friend in Yemen to look for a local NGO as a counterpart. Someone to cooperate with, with a project from Spain. She couldn´t find any and simply said ‘Ok, I can do it. I will be your partner. And this is how Solidarios sin Fronteras was born. The project, basically, helps families in Yemen.’

Sounds quite smooth. Has it been so?
´No, not really. We did face obstacles. Especially of intolerance. Helping a country like Yemen today is not easy. A Muslim country, stigmatized by the US and Europe as the birthplace of Al Qaeda and jihadism, unknown to most, far from Europe, a continent they cannot reach because, unlike Syrians for example, Yemenis  are poor. Yemeni society does not have a middle class which has money or can sell jewellery to pay for a small boat and leave. And to where considering Yemen has been the arrival end for refugees from the Horn of Africa?
The prevailing Islamophobia in the West is one of the major obstacles to help a country like Yemen. Still, we can not complain. We have been working for one year, now, and more and more people support us and send us their grain of sand

Eva is referring to Migrano de Arena (Spanish for Grain of Sand), the micro-crowd funding organisation for charity projects where the money is collected. For 1 euro a month, for instance, you can join others and become a full, strong force and change someone´s reality. This is how Solidarios sin Fronteras operates.
Due to the land-sea-air complete blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia on Yemen, it is virtually impossible to have aid entering the country, hence, money is the only quick way to help the local population.

Strong presence in the social media is helping the NGO and as Eva says: ‘It´s paying off. Currently we have 2 projects, 1 of food aid and drinkable water to the refugee camp in Amran (North Yemen) and for families with children hospitalized for war, and a project of reconstruction of houses and buying goats and kitchen ware for the Yemeni island of Socotra which,  although not having been bombed, in the month of November was hit by two cyclones in a single week which destroyed more than 15,000 houses . The population of Socotra is estimated in roughly 40,000 people and, since the war broke out, they have  become even more isolated and dependent solely on the island´s poor resources. We are happy to say that our goal, in Socotra, has been met.’
Indeed: homes have been built, animals and kitchen ware bought. More than 200 people helped with their grain of sand.
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As for mainland Yemen, Solidarios sin Fronteras is running its third campaign. Situation is apocalyptic. As reported on the NGOs official website: ´During 1 year, we have been feeding families in Yemen. We have been able to send food and hygienic products to more than 2000 people, but war continues, and also the humanitarian emergency, so we continue working non stop.
The Humanitarian aid we provide consists of boxes of food and hygiene materials. Each box supplies a family of four or five for a whole month. It contains: rice, oil, pasta, legumes, sugar, tea, cheese, powder milk, juice powder, tahini paste, a 15kg sack of wheat flour to bake bread, water, soap, sanitary pads, bleach, detergent and tooth paste. Each box costs around 60-70 € (food is 45€ and the rest of the products are 25€).
The money we collect through this campaign […] is transferred to Yemen at regular intervals. As soon as the money gets to Sana’a, the Yemeni members of our organization buy these items, put them in boxes and deliver them to selected families in the hospitals or where internally displaced people live. Also in Amran, a refugee camp where more than 600 people are living with nothing.
We prioritize children and women that have lost their family man.´

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The NGO is active in organising social events, conferences, debates. These, at times, also serve the purpose of collecting additional funds for  Yemen.
Eva is often interviewed on radio programs and the entire group (all volunteers) usually spare no effort in echoing the cry of Yemen in Spain. They  are people from all walks of life.
Next Saturday, 23th of April 2016, they will be in Madrid invited by the NGO Muslims for peace for “Yemen, a year of aggression”.
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Eva obviously  has only one hope for Yemen: peace.
With dreamy eyes she says: ‘Maybe my future is there, on the beautiful island of Socotra. At the end, Love conquers all.’



For further information:
Solidarios sin Fronteras – Facebook
Crowd funding / 3rd campaign here
Crowd funding / 1 Euro x month here