Fifty-year-old cleaning worker Faraj is keen to work approximately 11 hours a day serving the community and protecting it from the spread of epidemics and diseases as a result of the accumulation of waste in the streets. For nearly 30 years, the dark-skinned man has been working with a continuous routine in cleaning neighborhoods. He leaves his home early every day in the morning, carrying his brooms with their long sticks, wearing the orange uniform that distinguishes him as a cleaner, and heading in his daily uniform to the square in which he works to clean in the Sheraton area of the capital, Sana’a.
The dark-skinned old man, Faraj, speaks proudly of his work for “Khuyut”: “I do not feel bad about working in this field. I feel great joy when I help the community in its cleanliness and in preserving its beauty, despite the looks that despise me because of the color of my dark skin and because of my profession, with which I support my family.”
Faraj works for a monthly salary that does not exceed 30,000 Yemeni riyals, equivalent to 60 US dollars, which he says is an insufficient wage, especially with the high cost of living and the deterioration of his health after he contracted pneumonia and difficulty breathing, which prevented him from working recently as a cleaner. This caused him to lose his salary and remain bedridden in his home in the Sa’awan area of Sana’a. He lives with his wife and seven of his children, in addition to two of his sisters, in a modest house in the eastern workers' city of Sa’awan (Al-Mahwa), which he acquired in 2005, where 1,200 housing units were constructed for marginalized people who were relocated from the slums in the neighborhoods of 45 Street, Bab al-Yemen, and Aser and were housed in the northern, eastern, and western city of workers in Sa’awan.
A Financial Return That Is Not Enough to Live
Although three of Faraj’s sons work for a daily wage of 800 Yemeni riyals, equivalent to $1.6 per day, with the Cleaning and Improvement Fund, the wages they receive are insufficient to pay the bill for a decent living and to provide treatment for their sick father.
This prompted Faraj's family to go out to the street to beg for alms, despite the shame they feel when they ask people, which Faraj considers harsh moments accompanied by a lot of humiliation for his family from society, the majority of which refuse to help him.
“Despite the low financial return that Futoon receives from her work at the Cleaning and Improvement Fund and being deprived of official holidays and religious occasions, she is keen to work all days of the year, with dedication and sincerity, as she said, considering this work the only source that keeps her and her children alive.”
In general, marginalized people are excluded from public sector jobs, except in waste management as street cleaners, where they often work on a daily wage system without employment contracts. As for private businesses, they are usually confined to low-paid and socially outcast jobs, such as shoe polishing, car washing, and collecting plastic materials and scrap, according to the social activist Mohammed Al-Tayyari, who told "Khuyut."
Challenges of a Single Mother
Faraj's situation is no different from that of Futoon Barakat, a thirty-year-old woman who works in ordinary, worn-out clothes, despite the scorching heat of the sun, with dedication and sincerity, from six in the morning until two in the afternoon every day, cleaning a street in the center of the capital, Sana'a, without any means of occupational protection and safety. Likewise, there are 3,200 marginalized workers, who work at the Cleaning and Improvement Fund in the capital, Sana’a, and they live in the same situation.
Futoon tells “Khuyut”: “Our health and personal hygiene are affected by our work in cleaning, and with a monthly salary of 25,000 Yemeni riyals (about 45 US dollars), as it is not enough to pay for one week’s expenses amid the collapse of the Yemeni currency and the rise in food prices due to the state of war and its repercussions."
As a matter of fact, despite the low financial return that Futoon receives from her work at the Cleaning and Improvement Fund and being deprived of official holidays and religious occasions, she is keen to work all days of the year, with dedication and sincerity, as she said, considering this work the only source that keeps her and her children alive.
She continues: “I work for 8 hours a day cleaning the streets, and I return in the evening to beg in front of restaurants and markets to meet the needs of three of my children, whom I support after the departure of their father to Aden and the interruption of his news three years ago, and I do not know his fate until now." As she suggests, it is likely that he was involved in the ongoing conflict in the country; she believes that he was killed.
In this context, activist Rossiya Al-Jabali tells “Khuyut” that the marginalized in Yemen have been excluded in one way or another, socially and economically, as they are the least present group in the various fields. Thus, this prompted many of them, especially women and children, to practice begging as a primary source of daily living. However, the danger lies in the fact that their practice of begging becomes a way of life, and their stereotyping according to these dependent professions may result in them inheriting this profession as an easy option to earn money.
According to a study conducted by the Sana'a Center, estimates of the number of marginalized people in Yemen have varied dramatically, ranging from 500,000 to 3.5 million people, concentrated in the slums surrounding Yemen's main cities. This study estimates that they are between 1.6% and 2.6% of Yemen's population.
How can their situations be addressed?
Professor of Economics at Sana'a University, Dr. Ammar Al-Shibli, believes, in an interview with "Khuyut," that fixing the marginalized cleaning workers officially in the Cleaning Funds and the implementation of the strategy of the salaries and wages system for them, like state employees, and not making deductions from their salaries during official and religious holidays, on a par with state employees, will contribute to helping them live without their need to beg, pointing out the importance of taking care of their health and also giving them a risk allowance for dealing with chemicals and toxic substances while performing their work.
According to the Sana’a Center, in the study conducted in 2020, mentioned above, on the marginalized community in the governorates of Aden, Taiz, Sana'a, and its secretariat, it was found that the percentage of marginalized families who secure their food by begging in these governorates is distributed as follows: 49% in Aden governorate, 11% in the capital’s secretariat, and 17% in Taiz governorate. As for marginalized families who were constantly begging, the percentages were as follows: 100% in Sana’a governorate, 37% in the capital’s secretariat, 12% in Aden, and 53% in Taiz, noting that the statistics for Taiz date back to the year 2014 and have doubled greatly in recent years, according to the study.