Yemen - no normal Eid

by Fatima Al-Ajel, Save the Children Yemen | Save the Children - International
Monday, 27 July 2015 13:52 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Last week millions of Muslims all over the world broke Ramadan, a month-long fast, with the joyous holiday of Eid al-Fitr. For most there would have been no shortage of food, prayers, or gifts.

But sadly, here in Yemen, this was no normal Eid.

For four long months the situation in Yemen has continued to deteriorate. Almost daily air strikes, shelling, and ground fighting has seen more than 3,700 people killed – half of them civilians – and a further 15,000 injured. If you asked any Yemeni what they wanted this Eid they would all have told you the same thing: 'All we ask for is peace.'

Instead, what should have been a happy holiday of families and friends exchanging gifts, gathering for feasts, and children indulging in sweets, was something far more sombre.

Normally people decorate their houses for Eid and get dressed in new or clean clothes. But many of the children I spoke to this year hadn’t dressed up at all. They all told me that it was because of the conflict: 'My mum said it is because of the war that we don’t have money to buy new clothes this Eidm,' one young boy told me. Another said it is just too dangerous to go shopping anymore; something the relatives of the 45 civilians killed at a market in Lahj earlier this month will know only too well.

One popular part of Eid in Yemen is when girls decorate their hands with khethab or hena’a - a black liquid applied to form intricate designs to the skin. To do this properly takes hours, but they enjoy gathering with other girls and making themselves look beautiful for Eid the next day.

But for too many children this will be their last Eid. During the very first days of the holiday I saw a photograph of a Yemeni girl who had been killed in an airstrike. She was about 11-years-old. Her hands had been decorated with hena’a in preparation for Eid celebrations. On this holiday her family’s home should have been full of laughter and joy. Instead there was only rubble, tears, and anger.

What makes me most sad is that innocent children are suffering the most from this conflict – a crisis they have neither made or contributed to. For the month of Ramadan, Yemeni’s fasted, contemplated, and watched in horror as our country was ripped further and further apart. All we wanted for Eid this year was a break in the fighting, and some hope that peace may soon be upon us.

Now we have to wish that, come September, the second and final Eid celebration of the year, called Eid Al-Adha, will be a holiday we can actually celebrate and that all parties to the conflict will finally hear the voices of millions of Yemeni children who tell me daily: “STOP THIS WAR, WE WANT TO LIVE IN PEACE.”

- Despite the incredibly difficult circumstances for our staff like Fatima in Yemen – many of whom have been displaced themselves due to the ongoing airstrikes and fighting on the ground – Save the Children in Yemen are responding to the crisis with food security and livelihoods, child protection, and nutrition, health and WASH programming in nine of the affected governorates. To date the agency has have supported over 21,000 people, including 15,000 children.