Every morning, Ahmed Al-Jawhar wakes up in a room he shares with five others in an orphanage in the Yemeni capital Sanaa. The child goes to eat breakfast — which is basically whatever the orphanage can put together due to food shortages — before heading to a school where even the most basic resources are missing.
There are around 800 orphans living in Ahmed’s orphanage; the youngest is seven years old. The orphanage lacks the most basic necessities, and its situation is worsening day by day in the absence of support to ensure a decent life for those children. Even simple humanitarian gestures to improve their living conditions would be welcome.
The New Arab visited the orphanage in Sanaa and observed everyday life there, as well as the poor living conditions.
“We are hungry,” explained young Ahmed. “We eat only small portions, so we feel hungry all the time, and we do not have enough blankets to stay warm in winter, when the cold gets worse.”
Rooms are unfit for living a normal life; the doors look like those found in prisons, and there are very old beds with a shortage of blankets. The bathrooms are unusable because of a lack of maintenance and hygiene; they are infested with insects of all kinds.
In winter, the orphans’ suffering increases as they have to wash in cold water, which their small bodies cannot endure. Even if they had washing machines — which they don’t — there is no electricity, so their clothes are also washed by hand.
The situation has been exacerbated since 2015 by the ongoing war in Yemen, the government’s neglect, and the absence of charities and humanitarian organisations that are supposed to help those in need, especially orphans. The Deputy Director of the orphanage, Merzah Hashem, told The New Arab, that the children do not have school bags and stationery, so education is an issue too.
Amid this bitter reality, some children are forced to leave the orphanage to work, and some go begging on the streets, or they work in the qat (Catha edulis) fields outside the city. There are no regulations controlling the orphans’ situation inside the institution, and safeguarding violations are usually tolerated.
There are currently more than 1.1 million orphans in Yemen, according to local organisations, but the number is increasing on a daily basis, as a result of the ongoing armed conflict. Although some children who lose their parents are taken in by their relatives, the majority do not have anyone to look after them. Yemen simply cannot cope with this, as with so many other things at this difficult time; it has neither the resources nor the infrastructure.