Socotra, a distress call

Beyond the headlines, the sides and the personal interests, the various factions, those who care and those who couldn´t care any less, those who always have the answer and know who is ultimately to be blamed.
This is a message from Socotra island, isolated from the world and forgotten in the middle of the Indian Ocean, 400 km ca, off war-torn Yemen.

”A distress call.
Dozens of critical medical cases on the island, including a case of coma and kidney failure.
We need help, regular boats coming to the island and flights to/from Hadibo.
Flights to Socotra have stopped months ago and, due to the monsoon season, there are no more boats to our shores.
Students, families, patients are stuck in Mukhalla now. It has been so for 2 months.

We lack  Baby Formulas, food, medicine.
Our lives are being sacrificed. We are under a forgotten siege.
The situation is worsening.
We need help within the next 48 hours.”

The kidney failure case was a prior message received:
”My friend…he had a kidney failure. It is the first time it happens to him. His health is deteriorating. There are no medicines at the hospital. Imagine: they cannot do anything at the hospital.
There are no flights to mainland. He is stuck here, in Socotra, and his condition does not allow him to travel by boat to Mukhalla. 
He is under the mercy of God.
The war in Yemen deprived people of everything. If you are sick, there are not even emergency flights from Socotra.
Can you please write about him and his case? Hopefully someone can send an airplane to get all the patients out. He is not alone. There are many like him.
His name is Abdullah Salem.”

The name Socotra is derived from a Sanskrit word with its meaning  close to “The Island of Bliss”.
That was before the senseless war. Before lives started being sacrificed in the name of power.
50.000 people, amongst the kindest on the planet, await to be remembered.
Beyond the headlines.

 

photo: © Time

 

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Parallel deaths of war on Yemen

There never seems to be an end in sight.
War torn Yemen has been, basically, destroyed. The deaths, which seem to rise every morning with the sun, are not necessarily and exclusively the ones occurring under the bombs and/or in ground battles.
The parallel deaths which are not accounted for – and most likely will never be fully considered – are the shadowed ones. Shadowed by bigger news. In war times there is always a bigger news.
The parallel deaths cannot be confined to any category, chart . Not for now, not for the time being as Yemenis are busy skipping the bombs and the Saudis are busy white-washing their crimes at the UN.
The UN had, in fact, the unfortunate idea to blacklist the Middle Eastern Kingdom in consideration of its role in the killing of Yemeni children. Indiscriminate killing and inflicted suffering. Serious matters: crimes against humanity.
The black-listing lasted only a couple of days. Saudi dignitaries and diplomacy have already managed to make the UN temporarily cancel the report claiming they were and are, at the end, the victims. Constant state of denial.

We received a message from Socotra island two days ago.
Socotra is one of the most exotic paradises on earth, protected by the UNESCO.
With its  825 – and counting – endemic species, with its unparalleled heaven of biodiversity lying ca 400 km off the coast of Yemen, it was good to know that Socotra had been spared by the war. Mentally it was as if the island  was floating in a limbo, waiting for peace to arrive.
In extreme poverty, after having survived two cyclones which hit the island last November, meteorological calamities always seem better than any bombardment.
Allah Kareem, they say: God is generous. He will take care.
Then came the news, starting around February 2016, that the island had been lent/leased to the UAE for 99 years. The same UAE which is so active in bombing Yemen along with the Saudis (the eternal victims of this war, remember).
But everything made sense (a twisted one) at the end: it was a precious gift of run-away former Yemeni President Hadi to the Ruler of Abu Dhabi. With the compliments of Yemen must have read the card. Wars cost and Hadi needed to pay back.

On May 9 2016 we posted on Living in Yemen on The Edge page in Facebook an ‪#‎EXCLUSIVE‬ alert:

An informed source said on Friday, May 6, 2016 , that the Emirati military forces arrived to the ” island of Socotra ,” with a number of armored vehicles and military vehicles headed by an Emirati military delegation .
The source pointed out that some residents of the archipelago are shocked and distressed about the entry of these forces to the island as Socotra is a natural reserve of an extremely delicate endemic eco-system.
Most of the population contacted has expressed refusal to turn the island into a military base but who will listen to the isolated population?

And now the message of a friend in Socotra reminded us that not only bombs kill during wars and that most likely, one day, this parallel death will be put in the right chart.
For now, people in Socotra, await a slow death.

”My friend…he had a kidney failure. It is the first time it happens to him. His health is deteriorating. There are no medicines at the hospital. Imagine: they cannot do anything at the hospital.
There are no flights to mainland. He is stuck here, in Socotra, and his condition does not allow him to travel by boat to Mukhalla. 
He is under the mercy of God.
The war in Yemen deprived people of everything. If you are sick, there are not even emergency flights from Socotra.
Can you please write about him and his case? Hopefully someone can send an airplane to get all the patients out. He is not alone. There are many like him.
His name is Abdullah Salem.”

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