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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

Yemeni schools open their doors following months-long teachers' strike  

School staff demand wage hike amidst dire financial situation

Yemeni children attend class in a house turned into a makeshift school in the southwestern city of Taez on October 3, 2018. AFP / Ahmad AL-BASHA
Yemeni children attend class in a house turned into a makeshift school in the southwestern city of Taez on October 3, 2018. AFP / Ahmad AL-BASHA

Yemen's academic year starts on Monday - two months after schools were scheduled to open, but remained shut as a teachers strike swept through the country's liberated areas.

School staff went on strike in September to demand a hike in their salaries as the value of Yemen's riyal continued to fall and living prices spiral.

Millions of students have since been kept out of school.

On Monday the teachers union struck a deal with the Yemeni government in Aden, with the latter saying it would “solve all the teachers’ problems”.

Demands included a 30 per cent increase in monthly wages, further commitment from the government in Aden to combat infectious diseases in schools and the provision of computers for students. But the government’s failure to respond led to more strikes.

Teachers told The National that they will be returning to work despite being underpaid.

"Being a teacher in this country means your family will die starving, we lived without salaries for more than a year and a half in Aden as the war erupted in 2015 and with the severe depreciation in the Yemeni riyal against the foreign currencies my salary became such a trivial thing,” said Ali Mohammed, a state school teacher.

His salary, explained Mr Mohammed, failed to “match the basic needs for my children".

Though the strike included all areas liberated from Houthi rebels, educators in Mokha and Al Khokah in Hodeidah disregarded it and went back to school when terms began in September.

Their efforts allowed students living on the western coast to return to school for the first time since 2015, as most facilities were shut while under Houthi control.

Over the summer the Yemeni military recaptured several residential areas in an offensive in Hodeidah.

Ali Khalaf, the principle of Al Fager Al Jadeed primary school in Mokha, asked his staff to set up tents inside the school premises to accommodate the influx of displaced students.

More than 1,000 students attend the school where 17 teachers work - about four of them are unpaid volunteers.

"We will teach them on the roofs if we couldn't get more tents, they have lost three years because of the war and it is time to forget our suffering and carry out our duties," Mr Khalaf said.

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"We are ready even to teach them under trees, we want them to forget the fears and the nightmares of the war and resume their life and learn even few things rather than to be lost" said Mohammed Ahmed, a teacher at the Mokha-based school.

Dr Abdullah Lamlas, the Minister of Education, said during a meeting in Tunisia, that the war had destroyed the educational system in Yemen and deprived millions of children from going to school.

He added that 3,600 schools have been shut due to the ongoing conflict and that 67 per cent of teachers were not being paid.

"This is our duty, we should be honest with them and we should give them a spot of hope. However, we haven't been paid yet but we must keep doing our job for the sake of the humanity," said Fatima Al Taweel, a teacher in Aisha secondary school for girls in the district of Mokha.

Unicef estimates that some 4.5 million children in Yemen risk losing access to state schools, as teachers have not been paid in nearly two years.

Nonetheless, the start of term for many has served as a symbol of hope for a generation of children without schooling.

"I am very happy back to school, I miss my classmates and my teachers," said Aya Abdulhakeem, a 14-year-old girl attending 9th grade at Aisha School. "I am happier because the Houthis who occupied our school have gone."