On a small piece of land on the outskirts of Hudaydah, Yemen’s main port on the Red Sea, 38-year-old Nabiha tries to rebuild her life. Nabiha is the mother of three children, she was widowed in the first days of the conflict and was displaced several times by the fighting. She is now building a house that she hopes will restore the stability that her family has lost.
Nabiha and her family are from Al-Mokha, a city 185 kilometers along the coast that is famous for its historic coffee trade. In 2015, Nabiha fled to Hudaydah with her mother, her brother, her daughter and her two sons after her husband was killed in an explosion while at work.
“He was rushed to hospital, but after a week-long struggle between life and death, he died,” Nabiha said. “It was a very difficult moment for us. I was afraid that my children would also die… if we stayed there. That’s why I decided to leave.”
After spending most of her savings on renting homes in Hudaydah, Nabiha was again rocked by fierce fighting in late 2017. The violence killed more than 2,900 civilians and destroyed more than 6,600 homes, 33 schools and 43 roads. and bridges. This made Hudaydah one of the worst affected cities in Yemen after six years of conflict.
“All around us, families were being killed.”
Without the means to leave and start anew elsewhere, Nabiha had no choice but to stay in the city. As the front lines changed, Nabiha fled with her family from one place to another.
“I lived very close to the fighting. I had to move to another area because families around us were trapped by violence. We moved from one neighborhood to another three times to avoid bullets and air strikes,” said Nabiha.
Since 2015, more than 20,000 civilian deaths and injuries have been recorded and more than 4 million people have been forced to flee within national borders. Three quarters of displaced Yemenis are women and children. And in one in four displaced families, a woman is the breadwinner.
In a patriarchal society like Yemen, where socio-cultural norms often determine women’s lives, the conflict has increased the risk of exploitation and abuse.
To support her family, Nabiha occasionally works as a housekeeper. She also uses the basic skills she learned from her late husband (he was a nurse at a private hospital) on shifts at local private clinics. For example, Ella Nabiha gives patients injections, gives them first aid, and measures their blood pressure.
Word of her abilities also spread quickly among her neighbors, who came to her for help and affectionately referred to her as “doctor”. The country faces a severe shortage of trained medical personnel and only half of its health facilities are operational.
Through her work, Nabiha earns between 250 and 500 Yemeni riyals (US$2-4) a day. The little money she earns is often insufficient to meet the basic needs of her family. Her diet consists almost entirely of rice and beans. Often they only have enough for one good meal a day, and Nabiha sometimes even skips it so her children have more to eat.
These types of survival strategies have become common as the famine in Yemen has worsened. Displaced families are four times more likely than other Yemenis to be food insecure. It is estimated that some 2.6 million displaced people in the country are one step away from famine.
Nabiha has also received cash assistance from UNHCR. This form of assistance is provided to the most vulnerable people in Yemen.
In the last two years, people’s needs have increased due to ongoing violence and famine. Since then, UNHCR’s cash assistance has grown to become one of the five largest in the world, helping more than a million people each year. This aid is even more important for the two-thirds of displaced Yemeni families who, unlike Nabiha’s, have no income of any kind.
“I want a better life for them.”
Thanks to the help she received, the loan and the use of her last savings, Nabiha was able to buy the land. She is now busy building a sustainable home for her family, away from areas where there is constant fighting.
“It’s far from the city and close to a dump, but it’s better than renting,” says Nabiha. “I used to pay the rent, but sometimes I didn’t have enough money to pay. Then the owner threatened to evict us. Sometimes he couldn’t sleep because he was thinking about how to manage the rent money”.
For now, the house consists of a single room with a temporary roof that leaks when it rains. Still, Nabiha is hopeful for a better future. Despite the continuing difficulties and challenges of building a house with little money, Nabiha hopes to provide her children with a good education and the opportunity to fulfill her dreams.
“My daughter wants to be a pharmacist, one of my sons wants to be a doctor, and the second wants to work in the media,” says Nabiha proudly. “I want my children to be independent. They are very good at school. I want them to be able to trust themselves when I die. I want a better life for them. Better than mine.”
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