Ahlam Ahmed from Yemen tells of her struggles to overcome poverty, child marriage plans and discrimination to access education.
My name is Ahlam Ahmed. I am 29 years old and I was born in a rural area of Yemen.
My mother is illiterate and a victim of early marriage. She divorced my father when was very young. Since her parents died she was left with no family and didn’t have a job that could help her to raise or educate me.
She found several part-time jobs to enable our sustenance and worked very hard on farms in her free time, selling women’s clothes. My mother suffered considerable hardship to send me to school.
We were living in a village where life is very hard. Children growing up over there, especially girls, are deprived of their basic rights. I faced many challenges to have access to education but my mother supported my studies and worked hard to give me an education.
I would like to share some of the challenges that I overcame. The school which I studied at was located very far from our house, and the road to the school was risky and mountainous. I had to walk more than four kilometres from my home to the school and the same home every day.
I used to leave at 6am in the morning to reach my school on time - and would trek through high mountains and a dangerous valley where there are many kinds of wild animals.
I remember vividly how my mother fought against stopping my education or forcing me into early marriage.
Sometimes when I returned home the weather would be rainy and foggy, making my books and notebooks wet. I would then have to rewrite all my lessons and homework.
Furthermore, the quality of education where I studied was very bad as we did not have enough qualified teachers.
One of the hardest challenges I encountered was poverty, as my father never supported me or helped my mother with my school expenses. He would rarely visit and I felt his absence deeply.
These feelings of loneliness and the sufferings of my mother made me stronger. I developed an eagerness to study and wanted to be successful in my life.
I always remembered my mother’s tears and how she suffered, so I could build a bright future. This empowered me to achieve the highest grades every year since I was at primary school until I finished my secondary school.
The next challenge I faced was that my father would bring people to meet me with the intention of marrying me whilst I was still a child.
I remember vividly, when I was still studying in the fifth grade, how my mother fought against stopping my education or forcing me into early marriage. My mother continued supporting and encouraging me until I finished secondary school.
She then sent me from our village to a city where my aunt lives in order to complete my education at a university.
First I enrolled at an English language and computer science institute. I studied there until I finished TOEFL and computer courses with the highest marks.
Unfortunately, my family arranged my marriage before I enrolled into university and I became pregnant. However, I insisted on completing my education at university, even though I was pregnant and suffered a lot.
I put in intensive effort and studied hard, never giving up, and I overcame obstacles to achieve my dream to finish my studies. I graduated from the University Education College as the top student.
I received an overall cumulative grade of "Excellent with Honours" and became a teacher at the university where I graduated from, as a reward from the President of Yemen and the Rector of the University.
I am the only girl in my family and in the village who completed their studies and achieved their dreams. This was due to my strong determination and persistence to be what I wanted to be and also because of my mother’s support.
Now I am preparing for my MA in translation and planning to study an MA in Gender and Development and finish my PhD.
I am an education activist because of the challenges I have faced for my education. I am a local leader, engaging in philanthropic work, enabling access to education for unprivileged children and supporting the most vulnerable groups, and raising awareness of girls’ empowerment through education.
I launched many initiatives to support children, especially since the war escalated in Yemen in 2015. The last initiative (Empower Poor for Education) -which is supporting small projects to empower in-need and poor families for education - aims to support poor families to overcome both illiteracy and poverty.
I am working as an education coordinator at National Foundation for Development and Humanitarian Response (NFDHR).
I am also a Global Youth Ambassador for education in Yemen and an educational and academic supervisor for graduate students in the Education College. I am a member of the Youth Skills and Innovation Commission for the Global Business Coalition for Education.
I am spreading awareness of education among my community and my students at university. I am trying to inspire young people to advocate for this in many ways via social media and launching initiatives and conducting awareness lectures.
I am a mother to two children now and I am doing my best to make them highly educated, ambitious and inspiring.