Yemen – “Race for Peace and Stop the War”

Tuesday 24 November 2015

By Fatima Al-Ajel, Save the Children

All of our plans to launch the third Race for Survival in Yemen were coming together, until the war and conflict began in March, changing everything.

Instead of working with the children on ideas for the event, and ways to build on the success of last year, I had to inform our partner that it might just be too risky to gather hundreds of children in one place, given the risk posed by airstrikes and shelling. Protecting children is our ultimate priority.

Our local partner in Hodeida reported that many local children were asking all about the race and when it was happening as they were eager to convey their message to all parties involved in the war that “children call for peace and want to stop the war in Yemen”. I feared that the event would be cancelled, but then I received the news from the security team that the race would be able to go ahead in Hodeida. Everyone was so excited and eager to participate. Local community committees and youth initiatives invited many children and their families to attend.

Next we had to decide on a focus for the race, and our staff and partners were clear that this should be on the plight of displaced Yemeni children, 105 of whom took part in a child-led assessment that we supported in July. 20 children and young people from our programs were trained to conduct the assessment with the children from Sana’a, Aden, Hajjah, and Saadah governorates to gauge the impact the conflict has had on them and the issues that they are facing. Their responses underline the disastrous impact the conflict is having on Yemen’s children. Since the beginning of the bloody civil war in March 2015, the assessment found that an estimated 19% of the displaced children have been subjected to violence and abuse, with a further 17% living in abandoned schools, and 6% surviving on the streets or staying in make-shift shelters. We wanted to give these children a chance for their voices to be heard.

The Race was a great success; we were expecting 200 displaced children from schools and communities in Hodeida to attend, but in the end 500 participated in the Race! A further 1,000 displaced people, children from local schools and from the local community also attended. As Save the Children’s biggest child participation event, it was important that key local decision makers, parents, local media, schools and youth initiatives were also there to hear the children’s calls for peace.

After the Race, the children presented their 9 recommendations to the audience;

  1. Stop the conflict in our country - We call for peace
  2. Provide medical staff in all health facilities - We want to be healthy
  3. Provide clean water - We want to be protected from disease
  4. Provide regular electricity - We want to watch TV children programs
  5. Rebuild and repair our schools - We want to back to school
  6. Support us to return to our homes - We want to live in peace and happiness
  7. Provide a protective environment to us - We want to live with our families safely
  8. Bring brotherhood back to all Yemenis - We want to return smiles to the children’s faces 
  9. Build a playground for displaced children - We want to have a normal life

I hope the messages of the displaced children reached everyone. Children deserve to live in a protected and safe environment. I join in the children’s prayers for the war in Yemen to stop soon.