Student Initiatives in Taiz: Forms of youth effectiveness against the war and ongoing siege

Located in the central highlands of Yemen, Taiz reflects the unstable and volatile reality in Yemen. Since the outbreak of the Yemeni youth revolution in 2011, and the subsequent major developments in the country, the city has continued to struggle with long standing administrative and structural problems. For example, it faces shortages in the service sector, an absence of state-led development, water scarcity and the deterioration of sanitation management. All of which have led to a significant increase in citizens suffering. To make matters worse, the conflict escalated in 2015, and since then Taiz has been under siege. Militias continue to expand throughout the lanes and districts of the city, further disrupting the remaining services.

Taiz, a densely populated city, has been the most affected by the ongoing fighting and the siege. The conflict has had a dire impact on various government and private facilities. Civil servants have not been paid salaries for months, driving many families to poverty and destitution. The health sector is stretched, as the infrastructure is being used beyond its capacity with large numbers of war casualties and those affected by the cholera epidemic. Hospitals and clinics are unable to provide sufficient assistance, especially in critical cases. Unemployment has risen significantly, given the density of the population, and due to the closure of many private and public companies and institutions in the country.

 photo courtesy of Mohammedal-Qanas 

photo courtesy of Mohammedal-Qanas 

As a result of these harsh conditions, most citizens are in need of food, and many are in urgent need of medicine and shelter. According to the United Nations World Health Organization, 82 per cent of Yemenis need humanitarian assistance. Coping with this need requires a combination of local and international efforts, including creative initiatives by local youth and entrepreneurs. Among these efforts there have been various initiatives organized by university students in Taiz. They offer a glimpse of hope for many families who have lost their daily bread.

Students serving the community

One of these initiatives, Anta Al Khair (You are the Good), launched in 2011, but was unable to continue due to a lack of financial resources, which had previously been collected through donations. However, overwhelmed by the harsh reality of the civil war in 2015, the founders have attempted to revive the initiative with whatever resources they are able to acquire.

According to the head of the initiative, Mohammed al-Qans, the team do not belong to any party. They are a group of volunteers whose intention is to serve public interest during one of the most difficult stages in the history of the governorate and the country as a whole.

Speaking about their projects, al-Qans explained the scope and diversity of their activities. So far these have included: distributing wheelchairs for disabled children, building a playground, organizing a festival for internally displaced children, and distributing food baskets and Eid clothing to families in need. The team also initiated the project Ruqa’a (Patch), which focused on repairing and patching potholes.

As for support for their initiative, the team leader explained that they rely on their personal team workforce to implement these projects, in addition to material and monetary donations from the community.

Covering various territories

Anas al-Munsiri, a student of French language and literature at the University of Taiz, launched the Kun Anta (Be You) initiative, which focuses mainly on capacity building and training. Speaking to al-Madaniya, al-Munsiri explained the various capacity building and training projects that were organized for youth. These included trainings in the field of sports and health, as well as training volunteers for community activities. “We organized different festivals, distributed Iftar meals during the holy month of Ramadan, and organized courses in human development and first aid. Everything was done with the personal efforts of the team,” he added.

In 2016, Najla Waleed launched the Professional Media Initiative, a project that provides media training. The founders, a group of students at the university, also rely on team effort to carry out their activities. Najla, the head of the team, commented, “The initiative is aimed at building a capable media staff with the capacity to deliver news effectively and in different formats. With this in mind, we provide our target group with various skills, including training courses in photomontage, graphic design, and Photoshop.”

 photo courtesy of Mohammed al-Qanas 

photo courtesy of Mohammed al-Qanas 

Hardships motivate action

The current situation in Taiz drove Roaa al-Munaifi, a journalism student at the university, to launch an initiative called Madinati (My City).

Al-Munaifi is one of dozens of youth in Taiz who are striving to change the deteriorating reality in the governorate by adopting grassroots initiatives. Above all, these young people want to contribute to mitigating the damage caused by the ongoing war.

In conversation with al-Madaniya, al-Munaifi explained that the campaign she intends to launch aims at restoring optimism to the people of Taiz. This will be carried out through cleaning campaigns and beautification of the streets. With this initiative, trees will be planted, walls will be colored, and murals will be painted alongside motivational phrases.

Support for continuity

Ever since bullets and missiles started flying over Taiz, many recreational aspects of life in the city have disappeared. The initiatives were the only respite for those who were able to benefit from them. The increasing rate of poverty has affected people materially and emotionally, with the community gradually losing their sense of hope.

Walid al-Ja’our, a youth activist, believes that these new initiatives come at a time when society is in dire need of efforts to prevent it from an otherwise catastrophic collapse. Today the war has caused most humanitarian and volunteer organizations to stop their activities.

“The youthful zeal and enthusiasm of the people of Taiz has had a great impact. It has contributed to bridging the humanitarian needs gap in many aspects of relief and medicine”, al-Ja’our explained. These hardships have clearly highlighted the effectiveness of Yemeni youth. They have demonstrated a spirit of vitality and empathy. Their presence has been influential in Yemen in general, and in Taiz, a city facing siege and ground battles, in particular.

 photo courtesy of Mohammed al-Qanas 

photo courtesy of Mohammed al-Qanas 

According to al-Ja’our, what distinguishes youth initiatives is that they are diverse and all embracing – they have an ability to overcome many challenges, difficulties and material constraints.

At the end of our conversation, al-Ja’our called on the various institutions and international and local organizations to contribute to the development, institutionalization and support of individual youth initiatives. He stressed the need to train youth leaders to enable them to grow and develop long-term active organizations that are capable of operating under legal and international standards. This will enable these initiatives to become sustainable voluntary entities that contribute to building the Yemeni society in all areas of need.