By Salem Jaafar Baobaid, Project Coordinator – Emergency Food Assistance, Islamic Relief, Yemen
Yemen has suffered economic instability, political turmoil, civil unrest and conflicts for decades but the beginning of the recent conflict in March 2015 was a stark turning point for the economic, social and humanitarian destiny of this country and for me personally.
During these extraordinary times, the challenge to survive has knocked the wind out of every citizen. Within a short amount of time, the sky became congested with bomber jets, our movements were constrained and food supplies and basic necessities became scarce.
More than 10,000 people have been killed and 40,000 injured.
The humanitarian situation has reached new depths and without the intervention of the international community it might have collapsed.
The regular bombings and deliberate military tactics to shred the economy have destroyed public and private services, dragging an already weak and impoverished country to almost breakdown.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of my fellow citizens have lost their jobs or their livelihoods and have depleted most of their savings. Their lives have been quite simply devastated by the conflict. Nearly 19 million people are in need of humanitarian aid to survive. That’s more than in any other country in the world. The global humanitarian community is now faced with one of the most staggering man-made disasters in decades.
I have been working as an aid worker for Islamic Relief in Yemen since 2010 mainly involved in emergency food distributions and delivering medical supplies to hospitals. In the last two years our programme, including food aid, water and sanitation, health care, orphan and child welfare and vocational training for young people, has benefitted 4.6m people. Most recently we have responded to the cholera epidemic by providing medical supplies and large tents to help the hospitals cope with the overcrowding.
I’ve put my heart and soul and all of my experience and expertise into making sure this life-saving aid is delivered where it is needed most, often in dangerous circumstances.
But the conflict has taken a huge toll on my personal and family life.
One bombing attack in mid-2015 on a suspected arsenal store close to my home marked the beginning of the physical and psychological horrors of war for my family.
The explosions were like something you could never imagine. The ground underneath shook as if we were experiencing an earthquake. Doors and windows were wrenched from the walls and glass was scattered everywhere.
The women and children were absolutely terrified and their screams were all around us. Women ran out of the houses unveiled and children were were floundering about desperately looking for their families and safety. My youngest children were shivering in my arms.
My wife lost her ability to speak and remained that way for almost a week.
It was a strange feeling fleeing our nice warm home and founding ourselves in the open air with nothing and no idea what to do next to ensure our safety. In a moment our neighbourhood became like a ghost town.
It was inevitable that I had to move my family away from this potential military target. Within a year we were forced to move four times in a bid to find somewhere safe to live, but as the bombings became more and more frequent and widespread, this became impossible. My wife’s health dramatically worsened during this time.
Throughout these personal challenges I continued with my humanitarian commitments to deliver aid to affected communities across the country. But I was aware of the physical and psychological impact the conflict was having on my family. My children were traumatised by the bombing attacks and were petrified when they heard the sounds of fighter jets in the air.
My wife was diagnosed with an auto-immune liver infection. Supported by Islamic Relief I did all that I could to help my wife recover from this disease. But unfortunately, some aspects were beyond our control. Her condition requires a complete state of mental/physical rest and no stress, panic and anxiety, but she was petrified and psychologically disturbed by the continuing bombing attacks.
Her illness could have been cured with 18 months continuous medical treatment but the drugs were not always available because of the crisis. She suffered for two years and then tragically passed away.
Even though there is no doubt that this is her written fate by almighty Allah since her very first second in life, I still believe the ongoing crisis played a significant role in the tragic ending of my wife’s life.
She was a loving wife, mother and everything to me. Her death has left a deep grief engraved in my heart that will be there for the rest of my life.
However, my spirit for humanitarian work has grown bigger and stronger as every step I take to save lives conveys spiritual messages to my soul that the sacrifices I made to make people happy will be a great mercy of Allah and reward to the pure soul of my late wife.
I am so grateful to Islamic Relief who stood by me during this difficult time. This gave me lot of encouragement and support to continue my efforts to serve humanity, in spite of my personal problems.
Tragedy started at a specific point of this time line and it may remain entombed in my broken heart for life. But devoting most of my time to help people in need has shown me how important it is to carry on and do everything I can to draw out the smiles on the faces of highly vulnerable people in this country.