ADEN // Ten-year-old Norhan Mustafa used to spend Eid at the park with his family in previous years. But after his father lost his job as a nurse last year, the family stopped going to the park as they can no longer afford the transportation costs or entrance fees.
Norhan’s story is shared by thousands of children across Yemen, with the country wracked by high unemployment due to the war and families left barely able to make ends meet.
This Eid, in an effort to bring some cheer to local children, social workers and volunteers across the south-western province of Taez organised special celebrations.
Free for any child to attend, these events included singing, dancing, competitions and other activities.
Norhan was able to attend one such celebration at the Martyr Abdulaziz School, south of Taez city, the provincial capital. One of the organisers of the event, Ammar Gamal, 20, said he and his friends decided to put on the celebrations to help children in the city feel as though this Eid was the same as in any other year.
“Eids are the time to feel happy and forget all sufferings and problems we face,” Mr Gamal told The National. “Children always want to play, jump and dance to express their happiness and if they could not do that, of course they would feel how the war affects their life.”
“We do not want the war to reach children.”
Norhan said it was the first time he had attended such an event, which included a talent show. “It is fantastic as we can sing, dance and play,” he added.
Since Norhan’s father, Mustafa Al Qershi, 40, became unemployed in October, the family has lived hand to mouth.
“I thought that the most important thing for children during Eid is new clothes,” Mr Al Qershi said.
He eventually managed to scrape together some money to buy new clothes for his children to wear during Eid – something that would have been a given in previous years.
But after buying them new clothes this year, he found that something else was amiss.
“I realised that my children could not [simply] wear their clothes and stay at home; they needed to play and enjoy Eid as well,” he said.
Pro-government forces, backed by a Saudi-led military coalition, are still battling to fully retake Taez province from Iran-supported Houthi rebels, with clashes not letting up even during Eid.
Another child who visited the celebration at the Martyr Abdulaziz School was 11-year-old Ameera Moneer. She said this was the first year her family could not travel to neighbouring Hodeidah province for Eid to visit the families of her uncles and grandfathers.
“Every year we travel to celebrate Eid in Hodeidah where I have a great time playing with my cousins, but we could not travel there this year as the main route to Hodeidah is closed” due to fighting, she said.
The only way of reaching Hodeidah from Taez now – through mountainous terrain – is dangerous due to fighting close by and takes more than 14 hours, rather than the usual six.
Ameera said she was very disappointed that she could not spend Eid with her relatives. But when she found out about the celebration at the Martyr Abdulaziz School, she was overjoyed.
“When I knew about the celebration I longed to attend it and when I went, I was really happy to share happiness with my friends,” she said. “We have all played together, dancing and spending a beautiful time.”
“I hope this happens again next Eid,” she said smiling.