October 31, 2018

Teacher turns his home into a school for 700 children in war-torn Yemen

Children in Yemen, where 2500 schools have been damaged or destroyed in the conflict

Photo credit: Julien Harneis

Adel al-Shorbagy opened the school because there was nowhere for his own children to get lessons - and it just kept on growing.

Outside the home of Yemeni teacher Adel al-Shorbagy the queue of children lining up for education keeps getting longer.

Almost 700 come daily to his house which he converted into a school in the government-held city of Taiz, which has been at the centre of a three-and-a-half-year civil war that has left millions on the brink of famine.

Both the Iranian-aligned armed Houthi movement and Yemen's internationally recognised government have deployed forces in various districts of the southwestern city, Yemen's third largest.

Al-Shorbagy opened the school following the outbreak of war saying he had nowhere to send his own children. However, 500 boys and girls aged between six and 15 signed up for lessons in that first year.

"All the schools closed down and we had a problem that our kids were on the street," Al-Shorbagy told Reuters.

"We opened this building as a community initiative. It was my national and humanitarian duty towards my neighbourhood."

Inside the house, facilities are basic, with exposed brick walls and big gaps where windows should be. Ripped curtains are used to divide up space for classrooms.

Undeterred, the eager children find any space they can on the floor, with barely any room to move, let alone write. They share donated books and follow what one of the 16 volunteer teachers writes on a broken white board.

Classes include maths, science and English, with Al-Shorbagy saying he follows the pre-war Yemeni curriculum.

Despite the ramshackle setting and lack of facilities, the school is oversubscribed in a country where education has been decimated and accessible, free school options are limited.

Short days and crowded classrooms

A lack of teachers in Yemen is leading to some classes having 200 children and schools holding two-hour days, the Norwegian Refugee Council has warned. It called on the UK to create a fund to pay teachers, many of whom have not been paid for two years.

Some 2500 schools have been damaged or destroyed since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognised government, a UNICEF report said in March.

Two million children are out of school in Yemen, including Shehab Mohamed Hazzaa, whose mother was trying to enrol him at Al-Shorbagy's school.

"I came here to register... in the school and the principal told me that it is too crowded and rejected him," said the mother, who declined to be named.

The only other option in the city are private schools but they cost up to $400 per year, putting them out of reach for many in the impoverished Arab country. 

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