Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Two days in Aden

Housemate/Colleague E and I travelled down to Aden in the south of Yemen on Saturday afternoon. The flight with Felix Air was entertaining as the pilot kept directing our attention to views outside either side of the plane...unfortunately it was basically dark by this stage, so his tour guiding was rather fruitless. I woke up on Sunday morning to this view from my balcony; it was really nice to see and smell the sea. 
After spending the day in the office, writing the situation report and discussing information management type things, we were taken on a tour of Aden by the Programme Manager. We drove through to the "Crater" which is where the British Colonial headquarters once were. E was quite gleeful to spot pitched roofs, an interesting sight in a country whose architecture favours flat and boxy (but beautiful) buildings. We stopped for a couple of minutes beneath Seera Castle, watching the fisherman and trying not to breathe through our noses. 
We finished the evening with a fish feast overlooking the water (a bit further down the road from where this picture was taken), and it was extremely pleasant to sit by the water with a bit of a breeze. 

On Monday morning we were taken to three schools that have been housing Internally Displaced People (IDPs) since June 2011. About 200,000 people have sought shelter in public buildings in Aden, after feeling airstrikes and confrontations between the Yemeni armed forces and Islamist groups linked to Al Qaeda. We're working in 21 of these public buildings, with about 1,000 families. The first school we went to had been brand new and never actually used as a school. A lot of the people we spoke to here said that while they would return home yesterday, they expect to stay a long time, as the conditions there were better than they had known previously in Abyan. And since this building had never been used as a school, there isn't pressure on them from the government to move out, so they are likely to stay for a longer time.  

A lot of the work we've been doing with our partner organisations has focussed on hygiene promotion and getting the families organised to communally keep the schools clean. There are rosters in place that indicate who is responsible for cleaning what and when, and this seems to be working well. 
A welcome sight was seeing men cleaning as well. In this particular school, the men only had one designated toilet block (with more for women) and they are responsible for keeping the inside and surrounds clean. 
An aside: this little guy was immensely proud of his pink chick. I'm not exactly sure how, but the little chick had been hand painted and it followed us around squeaking. It even fell asleep on E's hand while she was talking. 
One of the really interesting interventions we're doing is Child-to-Child hygiene promotion. Kids volunteer to become hygiene leaders, and they receive training in a variety of health and hygiene issues. They then teach other kids about good practices, and have the authority in the school to scold any adults who they witness not doing the right thing. It works well because the adults don't get mad at the kids for telling them off (because who could get mad at little girls and boys?) and if the kids don't feel comfortable admonishing an adult, they can always raise their concerns with one of the adult hygiene volunteers, who will take it seriously. This young girl was 12 years old and was incredibly articulate and committed to maintaining high hygiene standards in the school.  
The third school we went to was a bit more rundown that the first. They had a temporary water point established, but in the afternoon the water pressure isn't great, so it does take time to fill the jerricans. 
There is a communal washing area though, which the women we spoke to said is a good place for them to socialise. The water that we're providing (by establishing a network to the water mains, and chlorinating) is safe to drink (well I haven't gotten sick yet, so that's saying something!) as well as to use for all of their household needs. 
The partner organisation conducted a focus group discussion on the laundry areas while we there, and the women were positive on the most part, but expressed that it would be good to have more privacy around the area. One of the most vocal women in the group was this lady, who we spoke to afterwards. She has an education diploma and is looking forward to becoming a teacher when her family is finally able to return to Abyan. She said that she wants to face the challenges of her family head on, to rebuild their house and not be transferred to another school or temporary accommodation. She was really positive about the support they'd received, but wants to return as soon as it's safe for her, her husband and their five children. 
As we were preparing to leave we spotted this old man walking with a cane and leaning heavily on his wife. Needing to talk to someone about disability we approached him and he was more than happy to talk. He said he was 'more than 80 years old' and said that life was good in the IDP centre, better than in Abyan. He did offer a couple of cavaets though - that it was harder for people to find employment than in Abyan, and that he'd become sicker, but on the whole, he was very positive. 
In the aid sector, 'resilience' is the buzz word meaning helping vulnerable people to better withstand potential shocks, rather than waiting for disasters to happen, basically it's replacing the term 'disaster risk reduction'. But to me, this man embodies resilience far better than obscuring the word into something that only people in the aid sector understand. Resilience is leaving your home due to conflict and settling in a small school room, and saying the life is good. Resilience is being 'more than 80' and relying on your wife to do everything for you because you're frail, but still maintaining that life is good. Resilience is wanting to return home, even though your house has been destroyed and you have no livestock, and still saying that your life is good.

That's resilience personified to me.

It was fantastic to get out and meet the staff and partners, and some of the beneficiaries as well, and even though it was a very short visit, I think we made a lot of progress. I'll be spending next week in two of our other humanitarian programmes, so I'm looking forward to seeing more.

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