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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 February 2019

Yemenis donate money to pay for teachers in Taez amid mass school closures

Tens of thousands of teachers in Yemen have been on strike since February after the government stopped paying their salaries last September. As a result, more than half of all schools in the country have been forced to close, reports Mohammed Al Qalisi in Aden
A Yemeni schoolboy writes in a notepad as he sits outside a school that was damaged in an air strike in the southwestern Yemeni city of Taez on March 16, 2017. Ahmad Al Basha / AFP Photo
A Yemeni schoolboy writes in a notepad as he sits outside a school that was damaged in an air strike in the southwestern Yemeni city of Taez on March 16, 2017. Ahmad Al Basha / AFP Photo

ADEN // Businessmen and residents in Yemen’s south-western Taez province are donating money to pay for teachers, as the school system becomes yet another victim of the country’s war.

Tens of thousands of teachers in Yemen have been on strike since February after the government stopped paying their salaries last September. As a result, more than half of all schools in the country have been forced to close.

The Yemeni government – which was forced to relocate to Aden after Houthi rebels took over the capital, Sanaa, in September 2014 – says it is unable to pay the salaries of state employees, which includes teachers, in 12 rebel-held, or largely rebel-held provinces, because the Houthis are refusing to send the incomes of those provinces to the central bank in Aden.

But the government has also stopped paying the salaries of public sector employees in Taez, which is largely controlled by the government.

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With more than 40,000 teachers now mostly out of work in Taez province, several fund-raising campaigns have been launched by local volunteers to help pay for living costs so that at least some can return to their jobs.

One such initiative in the government-controlled area of Al Azaez, 70 kilometres from Taez city, collected more than 5.2 million Yemeni rials (Dh76,407) in donations from local traders and residents. This was enough to encourage about 100 teachers in six schools to return to work for two months and meant that more than 5,000 students could resume their studies – at least temporarily.

Ali Al Azazi, a volunteer with the campaign, explained that the money given to the teachers was only a one-off donation.

“We did not pay [the] salaries of teachers, rather we paid 50,000 Yemeni rials for each teacher so they can buy food for their children,” he told The National. “We are trying to collect [more] to pay other teachers.”

Despite this, however, one of the teachers said he was very grateful for the money, and called on the government to pay him and his colleagues.

“I am so happy that there are some initiatives [that] work in the midst of war to help people, and I respect those volunteers for their efforts to help us,” Monasar Al Azazi, who teaches Arabic in Al Najah high school, told The National. “Nowadays most teachers in provinces [affected by the salary freeze] are poor people.”

Teachers in liberated areas of Taez city, where loyalist forces are still fighting the Houthis for full control, have been holding small protests almost every day since February to demand their salaries. So far, however, the government has not responded.

Private schools are not affected but they are too expensive for all but the wealthiest Yemenis.

A source in Taez province’s education office, which is controlled by the government, told The National there was nothing they could do to resolve the issue, and that even the office’s own employees were not being paid.

In Al Azaez, the six reopened schools have also opened their doors to students from other schools, which remain closed. This means there are now more than 100 students in a class – more than double the number before the teaching strike.

But a pupil at one of the reopened schools said he did not mind.

“This is not a problem for me, “ said Ali Najeeb, 17. “The most important thing is to be able to study.”

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

Updated: April 4, 2017 04:00 AM

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