Posted originally on UNICEF Yemen website, 3 May 2018

By Kenji Ohira and Tahani Saeed

Ibb, Yemen, 3 May 2018 - “I stopped sending my own two kids to school, so I could save up and make some money. We cannot make a living any longer without our salary,” says Khalid Al Basir. The shocking revelation comes from a grade 2 teacher of Arabic at Al Wahda School on the outskirt of Ibb city.

“But aren’t you a teacher...why would you say something like this?” we ask him, shocked. He responds to us in a sad but angry voice, “What can I do when I haven’t received my salary for such a long time...I have to support my family?”

Khalid’s outburst was understandable.

“How we can blame him, I thought to myself “, Kenji said.

Over 3 years of a brutal conflict in Yemen has left the education sector in crisis. Nearly two thirds of teachers in public health schools haven’t been paid their salaries in over 18 months putting the education of over 4 million children on the line.

In Al Wahda School none of Khalid’s 21 fellow teachers have received any salary since October 2016. No other assistance, such as food basket or direct cash transfer, has come from any quarter either. Meanwhile, the school has taken in an additional 400 Grade 7 to 12 female students from an adjacent school. This is in addition to its own 600 male students. This strange situation has arisen as the girls’ school does not have enough teachers to take care of its students. The school was left with no choice but to ask the next door neighbour to take care of its helpless students. With the additional burden, teachers in Al Wahda school have even been stretched further.

To overcome its dire financial situation, the school has started collecting Yemen Rial (YER) 1,000 or an estimated US$ 2 each from all students. Albeit there is no official data, the school has confirmed that as a result some students have dropped out as they cannot afford to pay the fee. From the money collected Khalid, and his colleagues, presently earn just YER 1,000 a day that he receives, after deducting transport cost, on days when he teaches at the school.

Meanwhile, the stories doing the rounds, of teachers and their families, makes one sad. For instance, one of Khalid’s two kids is now selling sweets on the streets. The other boy is helping out a relative in his business. Khalid says he has run into a debt of YER 170,000 at the nearby restaurant that provides the family with food. That amount, under normal circumstances, is equivalent to his two months’ salary. 

The current situation at Al Wahda School not only affects teachers financially but also mentally. Many of them feel unhappy collecting fees from students. They feel like they are beggars. Some of them say they are losing the respect of the students as well as their parents. Yet, they keep coming to school and continue teaching in the ardent hope that education will equip the children with a brighter future.

Meanwhile, the school is trying to be transparent and accountable to its students. Students and their parents are provided information on how the money collected from them has been spent. In the headmaster’s office, anyone can see the teachers’ attendance sheet displayed. It shows the amount a teacher receives per week since the school started collecting the fees.

Listening to the woes of the teachers sets us thinking: “Is it okay for schools to take money from students?”

“What would happen to children if more and more teachers stopped coming to school because they don’t receive any financial support?”

“What can we, in our capacity as education staff, do to help?”

We were also thinking that if just one story we heard at Al Wahda school had so overwhelmed us, what about those of the other over 174,000 teachers who had not received their salary for such a long time?

We simply admired them for their perseverance and dedication. For us these teachers are true heroes and shining examples.

The Yemen authorities must prioritize the education of children, including the payment of salaries of teachers to give the current generation a chance to learn and chat forward a bright future. The international community too needs to act with a sense of urgency to invest in the education of Yemen’s children and to exert concerted efforts towards a lasting solution to the education crisis in the country.