In the early seventies, midst the Yemeni competition in construction which President Ibrahim al-Hamdi opened its course, poor residents joined with affluent residents in my remote village, east of Jabal Sabir, Taiz governorate, in central Yemen, to build a small school. They called it “Mohammad Taha Naji’s School”, in his honor as one of the contributors. The school had a limited number of classrooms. Those humble classrooms were the first and last thing my village knew about the manifestations of modern life until I moved away in the last months of the twentieth century.
Residents there depend mainly on cultivating small areas of land and raising livestock, before they discover the way to the city and exile and acquire skills from their crafts as workers which did not make a real difference in the primitive economic situation of the people.
With all this stagnation, the arrival of male and female teachers to our small school from outside the village opened a window of awareness. With those small rays of light, we began to see how the world is bigger, wider, than we used to imagine, and that there are vast areas behind the mountains that form the borders of the village. As a person in this closed society, I thought the world was limited to the distance I used to walk between the mountains and valleys to herd sheep or fetch water from wells. In school, I became eager to learn more about life.
Despite the modesty and low quality of education, this school was the only good opportunity that I encountered for the first time in my arid rural life. The same was true for the majority of Yemenis who were not among the few groups that are relatively liberated from this reality, particularly in relation to opportunities, including quality education.
Despite the relevance of every discussion on the issue of public education, its level of quality and the quality of its outputs, and with all of the comments and drawbacks, education exported to the country thousands of qualified people in various fields, from residents of the cities and the countryside.
Since I left the village with my family and moved to the city of Taiz in the late nineties, in search of a better life, and new opportunities in education, services and work, I visited many villages, regions, cities and countries, and with every bliss or misery I encounter in my way, my village grows to my mind with its villagers and children with their shabby clothes. So, I ask myself; When will they have the ideal opportunity to live a decent life, or even a minimal one? When will time come when the residents of my village and the rest of the Yemeni villages have good education, health, services, and a road network?
In Mwatana for Human Rights, we are trying today to put education issues as a priority, whether by shedding light on the damage inflicted on this important sector during the last years of the war, or by participating in elaborating the necessary solutions that will improve and upgrade services in this aspect.
When I received a report from the Mwatana field team that the parties to the conflict destroyed a school within my village’s district, I opened the document and discovered that it was my small school. Yes, we are witnessing a conflict, with claims and speeches of patriotism, warplanes and armed groups, and yet the victim is a school.
However, what the world may see as just a small, dilapidated building, which was subsequently turned into rubble and a pile of stones, is much bigger than that for a distant, remote and forgotten village. It is the first thread of hope for a better future, and a small defense against backwardness and ignorance.
The eyewitnesses did not detect a military presence inside the school, before the bombing, but there was a military checkpoint belonging to the Ansar Allah armed group (Houthis), about 800 meters away, with about six armed individuals and a military vehicle. There are also reports that the school had been used by Ansar Allah armed group (Houthis) for military purposes as a detention facility prior to the attack.
Despite four years passing after the attack, the school is still completely destroyed from the western, northern and eastern directions, and the view of the rubble is more apparent from its yard.
Although the school building has almost completely collapsed, students flock to study daily, some in torn, shabby clothes, walking – even though years have passed since their dream was shattered – among the rubble, not caring about the debris.
Every morning, the schoolyard is filled with students and teachers, then some of them go to the remaining semi-destroyed classes, without doing the morning queue exercises, and others remain in the yard and at the windows and doors of the classrooms.
There are no longer chairs to sit on, or tables to write on, although among these students are children between the ages of 5 to 12 years, and they are the most affected group by this devastation, with the overwhelming noise, as there are no doors or windows, only dust, debris and burning sunlight in a barren village.
Although many of the school’s students have dropped out, or are now living in the diaspora, there are those who still travel long distances to the heart of the destruction, accustomed to the fact that this remote part of the land contained a small window to the world, contained a school.