Delivering under fire in Yemen' UNICEF

I recently visited a displaced person’s camp in Ibb city, in the south of Yemen. There I met families – around 25 in total – who have been uprooted from their homes by the conflict and who are now staying at a temporary shelter in the Al-shaheed Alsabahi School in the city.

At 12.45pm, while I was chatting to the family of a newborn child, there was an airstrike. It was a decent distance away from the shelter, but the sheer force of the explosion shook the very foundations of the school. Panic and fear spread rapidly as mothers and children huddled to protect themselves, preempting more attacks. Weeping families, terrified infants and helpless volunteers waited for the air raid to pass – not for the first time in recent months.

The new mother, Amal, having given birth less than a week ago, kept chanting prayers in the local dialect, her tearful calls for mercy echoing through the camp. The chant “Yarab, Yarab” seemed to give her some courage as we tried hard to comfort her. An older woman sitting just outside the classroom stared blankly at all the worried faces and kept mumbling in an almost prophetic voice, “What is written, we will see it, Alhamedallah, Alhamedallah”.

Things only got worse when the children started howling in terror, huddled in groups downstairs, crying out loudly for their families. Some of our volunteers helped to calm the children, but our words of courage were drowned out by the sound of explosions outside. We all felt and understood the futility of trying to ease the children’s panic in the face of such frequent air strikes.

In another part of the school, Aisha, a mother of four, fainted twice and had to be revived. So many families like hers have been left feeling extremely vulnerable in shelters like these, having fled their homes to be housed in places that are still too close to the bombs. She kept waking up and insisting on leaving the school immediately with her children in order to protect them from another round of bombings. Even as she hugged them tight, she pleaded “let me leave, there’s no safe place, everywhere will soon be under attack”. Some of our female volunteers managed to soothe her frayed nerves by explaining gently that she and her children were safe from the raids inside this shelter and that the UNICEF team were there to help keep her family safe.

For me, I felt helpless, watching the panic spread. I can’t undo this war nor can I make the bombs disappear. But as a Yemeni woman and most importantly as a UNICEF staff member, I have hope and I will do my best to assist people. This war must end soon for all of us, so that we can all return home to a life without the fear of air raids, without the sound of explosions and gunshots and wailing children punctuating our lives.

Rania Al-Zubairi is a Communication for Development Officer working at the UNICEF Taiz Field office.