In Yemen, helping teachers help children

This story was originally posted by UNICEF.

By Kate Rose and Abdullah Modhesh

Training for teachers in psychosocial support is enabling them to better meet the needs of children in Yemen, as conflict has kept nearly 2 million out of school.

SANA’A, Yemen, 27 October 2015 – "It’s miserable when your home is beside a target,” says Tahani, an English teacher from Sana’a, Yemen. One morning in late March, the city was awakened by an explosion that shattered windows and shook buildings.

While most people in Sana’a spent the next few days trying to work out what was happening, Tahani and her family were told to move, as their house was in an area being directly targeted in the sudden escalation of conflict in the capital.

“We were forced to live in other places,” she says. “And every time my children hear an explosion or planes, they are so scared. We are really forced to cope with this situation and pretend that everything is ok.”

Tahani has been teaching for 11 years, a dream she held since she was a young girl at school, enjoying the lessons her own English teacher gave.

Like so many teachers throughout the world, she doesn’t believe that teaching is just a job, or about simply providing students with knowledge.

“I remember my students by their names – they are the ones who let me learn how to be patient, to tolerate the difficulties of teaching and bring out the best in me.”

Even before the last few months, teaching in Yemen was no easy task. With a lack of teachers, the number of students in a class could often reach 100, and when the frequent power cuts took place, classes were disrupted, it was impossible to use equipment like overhead projectors. But since March, the situation has gone from bad to worse.

As the conflict engulfed the country, 3,584 schools were closed, 502 of them were partially or completely destroyed. Nearly 2 million children were unable to go to school, and teachers were forced to stay at home. While catch-up classes and exams have been planned, the conflict rages on.

Addressing the impact of conflict

The psychological effects of listening to bombing and gunfire day and night, the physical upheaval, the risk of death or injury – all weigh heavily on students’ ability to return to and stay in school. To help support these children, UNICEF and the Ministry of Education trained 50 teachers and social workers in July this year. Tahani is one of them, and like the others, she is expected to go on to train more teachers to provide psychological support to children affected by conflict.

During the course, Tahani and her colleagues learned how to help children understand by practicing normal activities, despite the difficulty of the situation. They were taught how children could release their tension and stress through drawing, acting, colouring, role-playing and games. She also realized that her own children, as well as herself and her husband, are all suffering from stress, and could use a few of her newfound skills themselves.

Tahani helps children with a lesson. Continued conflict in Yemen has prevented nearly 2 million children from going to school. © UNICEF Yemen/2015/Fuad

"I can also see how it will affect my work positively," she says. "I am sure my work will change from only teaching to becoming a more supportive, friendly and caring teacher by concentrating on pupils’ real needs"

She gives an example of one girl who cried and shouted in class. “Her uncle and father's houses were damaged in the conflict during Ramadan," she explains. "She still suffers from continual jolting while sleeping."

While waiting for school to reopen, Tahani is using her new knowledge to work with children in one of the schools being used by displaced families, most of whom belong to the marginalized muhamasheen community.

"I hope that I can pass my message of love and care to my students" Tahani says. "I hope that my students will get over their difficulties and try to gain knowledge through self-learning. I hope that people in my country stop fighting."

Tahani, an English teacher in Sana'a, Yemen, plays with children who have been displaced by conflict. She is one of a group of teachers and social workers who have received training to provide psychosocial support to children. ©UNICEF Yemen/2015/Fuad