Healing Yemen’s Invisible Wounds
Years ago at a special needs centre in Yemen, I met Eyad*, a ten-year-old with severe visual impairment. Through special glasses, he could faintly see family and his surroundings, capturing both beauty and harsh truths. However, it was not his physical vision that concerned me most; it was the weight of his words when he said, “Before the glasses and while my vision was limited, I was happier.” That was when I realized the gravity of the mental health challenges children like Eyad* face alongside their physical disabilities.
Growing up in Yemen, amidst wars, economic turmoil, and declining social services, I experienced firsthand the complex relationship between adversity and psychological well-being. These circumstances, which kept pushing dreams away, were not just physical barriers but were deeply rooted in my people’s mental suffering. However, inspired by the children I met and worked with, I knew that there was hope in every hardship, and I strongly believed I had a duty to do everything I could to ensure these hopes didn’t fade away.
My early efforts focused on aiding children with physical disabilities. I taught visually impaired kids to type for exams, which provided them with a sense of confidence. Yet, as they became more physically independent, many still struggled with the emotional impact of their disabilities and life situations.
While volunteering as a typing trainer, I saw that these children were wrestling with not only their physical challenges but also their emotions. They needed both tools for daily life and ways to manage their feelings. This insight deepened my interest in mental health.
After intensive training in Jordan on assisting visually impaired children, I returned to Yemen with renewed determination. While I tried to modify classrooms for these children, a comprehensive approach required addressing their emotional challenges too. Sadly, societal resistance and lack of funds often hindered our projects.
Yet adversity can often breed resilience. Reflecting on Eyad’s* journey and countless others, I was drawn towards an even more encompassing role at Save the Children, where the focus was mainly on mental health and psychosocial support. An important step in my journey as I strongly believed that as the shadows of wars and economic crises deepened, so did the need for mental health interventions for Yemen's children.
The difficult times during the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the tragic loss of my husband, have further magnified my belief in the importance of mental and emotional well-being. I took on roles, with Save the Children, that put me at the frontline of mental health initiatives, recognizing their critical significance. As a Community Mobilization and Psychosocial Support Program Officer, every day brought stories that underscored the importance of mental health. Rima*, a 12-year-old girl who, when presented with toys, only wished for her imprisoned father's return, reminded me that our psychological scars often run deeper than the physical.
As a mental health advocate, my mission became to provide not just tangible relief but also mental and emotional healing. Despite societal misconceptions and occasional pushbacks, every success, every child's smile, and each family's renewed hope strengthened my determination.
Even while facing harsh realities, children in Yemen yearn for peace, joy, and the simple pleasures of life. Our duty is not just to mend their physical world but also to heal their spirits. Mental health is not a luxury; it is a cornerstone of well-being. Optimism, in the face of adversity, isn't a denial of reality but the assertion that hope can still exist amidst it.
Written by Noora Al-Shami, a member of our MHPSS team in Aden, where she oversees several MHPSS initiatives that aim to strengthen the resilience and mental well-being of children and their families.
Save the Children is deeply committed to addressing the mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) needs of vulnerable children and their families. We have established several community centres across the country to address the mental health and psychosocial needs of children. Within these centres, we offer a range of activities such as the Puppet Theater, folk games, storytelling, and other games, all of which incorporate psychosocial support elements. Additionally, we have introduced door-to-door MHPSS services, offering private and group sessions to families in their homes. Led by trained professionals, these sessions use games as tools for support. Our HeART sessions provide a structured art program that leverages the therapeutic power of the arts to assist children in expressing themselves and managing their emotions. We also provide vocational training in collaboration with local institutes, aiming to equip children with skills for identified professions, further promoting their well-being and potential livelihoods.