For those of us who live in the United States, events half way across the world barely catch our attention. A bombing in a Baghdad market kills thirty people and we shake our heads, then go back to work or golf.
I think there are two main reasons for our seeming lack of empathy.
First, we are too concerned with our own lives to worry about lives in some other country. We have jobs, kids, and numerous bills to pay. School activities and our own social lives leave little time to research news reports more fully. The main stream media gives us numbers and we quickly move on.
The second reason we seem to ignore human tragedies, such as the situation in Yemen, is that those numbers the media report are just that-numbers. No faces, names or ages are given. They are simply called “collateral damage” by the military and government. When no one is giving us a deeper understanding of the human toll, we tend to pay no attention to pleas for help.
What if we knew the victims? What if we saw what is really happening there? Would we be more likely to open our hearts-and our wallets? Possibly so!
My friend Adel and others began a local charity in Yemen called Human Needs Development-HND. With donations, they are able to purchase very basic but nutrient rich food and distribute it to hungry families. They are the “boots on the ground” in the fight against severe hunger in Yemen.
The link to their fund is here:
I discussed with Adel the dilemma of convincing more Americans to donate to this cause and I encouraged him to put a face on the victims. I gave him a list of questions about the people there and life in general, before and after this war began. What follows is a “transcript”, if you will, of that interview.
Me: What are the languages most commonly spoken there?
Adel: The most commonly spoken in Yemen is Arabic which is the mother tongue of Yemen’s nation people. English is the second language spoken here in Yemen but with few speakers. You know, English is the language of the world’s people, which is made the second language in the country.
Me: What religions are practiced in Yemen?
Adel: The official religion of the country is Islam. That is the religion of 99.0% of the population. There are Jews in Yemen but they are the only non-Muslim minority of the indigenous population.
Me: What does an average Yemeni man do on most days? For work? Recreation?
Adel: Most Yemenis work in low income jobs. They are taxi drivers, bus drivers or work in local shops. However, many of them have lost their income source due to the war. Even those who work in public service in the government have not received their salaries for nine months! Most of the people here are now dependent on foreign aid to survive, with 21 million having great humanitarian needs.
Recreation in Yemen is very different now, since most usual places for that have been bombed.
Me: Do the children there attend school regularly? What do they do after school?
Adel: Since the war, an estimated 3 million children have not attended school. Some parents cannot pay the fees and others need the children to work to help feed the family.
War has left millions of children with no education. This is a threat to an entire generation of Yemenis. Parents are too busy just trying to find resources to survive and teachers in the country have not been paid in nine months.
Me: What is the role of women in Yemeni society?
Adel: Yemeni women work in general institutes and study in Yemen’s universities. They become doctors, teachers, activists, and are essential reasons for a better Yemen. The Yemeni women, much like the men, still suffer from human development issues such as ignorance, poverty and disease. But, they work hard to try to feed their children. Some Yemeni women and children are forced to beg in the street just to survive.
Unfortunately, some parents in Yemen don’t allow their daughters to complete their education. They study the primary level and then are forced to stay at home. I do not agree with this and Islam does NOT promote this. True Islam teaches that women should work, study and be one of the state’s builders.
Me: What sort of celebrations are there in Yemen? Holidays? Parties?
Adel: In Yemen, we celebrate all the traditional Muslim holidays. For example, Eid Al-Adha. We have a three day festival, called Eid Al-Fitr, to mark the end of Ramadan. We also celebrate the Islamic New Year, called Muharram and Mouloud, which is the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.
National Unity Day is a public holiday, celebrating the uniting of North and South Yemen.
Me: What are common favorite foods and drinks?
Adel: Fahsa is a lamb cutlet stew, made into soup with spices and holba(fenugreek). It is eaten with traditional Yemeni bread, which helps scoop up the food, like a spoon.
Salta is a common food here, also. It contains rice, potatoes, scrambled eggs, and vegetables.
Drinks include red tea, which is made with ground cardamom, and Arabic coffee. The coffee is ground lightly and it, too, is mixed with cardamom. Traditionally, it is roasted on the premises(home or a special occassion), ground, brewed and served in front of the guests.
Me: How do people in Yemen view those in the United States?
Adel: With the current U.S. involvement, with either the Houthis movement or the AQAP( Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Penninsula), many Yemenis of both movements hate the U.S. administration, but NOT the American people. They believe the U.S. government is the cause of much of the unrest in the Middle East and that it is simply trying to steal the oil resources here. Others see it as the U.S. protecting its own interests, much like any country.
Me: What has been the effect of recent attacks on Yemen and its people?
Adel: The attacks have led to one of the worst humanitarian crisis in modern history. 21 million people now need urgent humanitarian assistance. 18 million people here are food insecure, with 8 million facing famine NOW. 600,000 children are acutely malnourished and about 3 million chidren are out of school this year. 3 million people have been displaced due to clashes and air strikes. Those internal refugees are the most vulnerable group affected by the war.
The tragedy in Yemen is worse than the news media is highlighting. Many people do not know how they will get their next meal!
Me: Are there any other aid agencies on the ground there providing relief? Is aid getting to most people?
Adel: Most of the aid agencies left in March 2015, when the current civil war broke out. Our organization, Human Needs Development-HND has been working alongside a few other local agencies on the ground in Yemen.
With no international aid agencies and very few donors, we are completely dependent on the generosity of foreign donors to help us get food to Yemen’s children who are facing starvation! There are markets here but so many people have not been paid, or lost their jobs, and they cannot afford to buy food.
Most importantly the war must stop and the blockade must be lifted. The coninuation of these will cause ever more suffering to the people of Yemen, especially the children.
So, there you have it. These are HUMAN BEINGS! They are not numbers, nor are they “collateral damage”. They have faces and names. They are parents and children. They go to school, just as we do(when they CAN!), and work at jobs, same as us. They celebrate holidays and have traditional foods, just as we do here in the U.S.
I thank Adel for the work he is doing and for helping us to see everyday life in Yemen. Maybe when the news reporters just give the numbers, we will all see the faces, too.
If you would like to contribute to Human Needs Development-HND, please use the link below. Any amount is deeply appreciated!
And remember, sharing is caring, too! Feel free to repost!
Until next time, be happy on your journey…