Yemeni Teacher Opens Home to 700 Students

06 November, 2018

A Yemeni teacher has given up a valuable part of his life to improve education in the face of continuing war. He turned his home into a school that now serves hundreds of students.

The teacher, Adel al-Shurihi, said he has watched students suffer for more than three years during the country's civil war.

Al-Shurihi lives in the southwestern city of Taiz. The area has been at the center of a conflict.

The war between Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi started in 2015. At the time, Houthi militants had captured large areas of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa. A Saudi-led coalition is fighting a ground and air campaign in support of the government of Hadi, who fled to Saudi Arabia in exile. Iran supports the Houthi rebels.

Children sit in a classroom of a school to which they have been evacuated from a village near Hodeidah airport amid fighting between government forces and Houthi fighters in Hodeidah, Yemen June 17, 2018. (REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad)
Children sit in a classroom of a school to which they have been evacuated from a village near Hodeidah airport amid fighting between government forces and Houthi fighters in Hodeidah, Yemen June 17, 2018. (REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad)

The war has spread to different parts of Yemen. Local and international aid agencies warn the conflict has created one of the worst humanitarian crises of the 21st century. A weak economy has led to poverty and severe famine threatening millions of people.

When war first broke out, Adel al-Shurihi said schools in his area began closing. He and other parents had nowhere to send their children. It also was not safe for the children to be on the streets.

Al-Shurihi wanted to provide some form of education for students although violence and poor living conditions remained threats. So he came up with the idea to turn his three-level home into a school.

"Falling bombs and planted land mines made it harder for children to reach their schools," al-Shurihi told VOA. "Because of the war, my children, and the children of everyone I know, were unable to get their education. So, I decided to turn my own house into a school so that students could get their education safely."

Sherin Varkey helps lead the United Nations children's agency, or UNICEF, in Yemen. He told VOA the conflict is causing many problems for the country's education system. Currently, about two million children are not able to attend school.

Tens of thousands of Yemeni teachers have gone on strike in recent months in government-controlled areas to demand better pay. In rebel areas, tens of thousands more have not been paid for at least two years, a UNICEF report found.

Varkey said more than 270 attacks have been reported on schools since the war began. About 2,500 schools have been damaged or destroyed throughout the country.

Varkey added that the breakdown of the education system is likely to have serious long-term effects on the country. He said history has shown that children who do not get an education are at greater risk of turning to child labor. Many also end up joining armed groups or getting married as children.

Al-Shurihi said that within the first year of opening his home school, 500 boys and girls between the ages of six and 15 signed up to attend classes. Today, he gets about 700 students daily.

He has 13 classrooms and 16 volunteer teachers. But, al-Shurihi said he is always looking for more people to help. He lacks many materials usually found in schools, such as books, paper and chalkboards. Most students have to sit on the ground.

But Al-Shurihi said the conditions have not stopped his students from seeking learning and normal life in the face of severe conflict. He is urging the international community to support efforts aimed at solving Yemen's education crisis.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from VOA News and Reuters news agency. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

famine n. a long period when people living in a particular area do not have enough food, and many of them suffer and die

chalkboard n. a large board with a dark surface that teachers write on with chalk