Adel al-Shorbagy’s children didn’t have a school to attend after civil war broke out in Yemen in 2015 — so he opened one in his home and opened it up to the community.
In the first year, 500 children ages 6 to 15 enrolled. Now, nearly 700 students arrive at his doorstep in the city of Taiz every morning for class, Reuters reports.
"We opened this building as a community initiative. It was my national and humanitarian duty toward my neighborhood," he said.
There are 16 volunteer teachers who use broken whiteboards to teach a curriculum that hasn’t been updated since the war, which includes math, science, and English. One mother, who wished to stay anonymous, told Reuters her son was rejected from Al-Shorbag’s school because the principal said there wasn’t enough room.
Spots in the rooms divided by curtains, where children squeeze together on the floor and share donated books, are in high demand.
Students don’t have much of a choice in the country where free, accessible education is hard to come by. Private school is very unaffordable for most families in the war-torn country, and can cost up to 100,000 Yemeni riyal ($400 a year). Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world, and in 2014, half of the population lived on less than $2 a day, according to World Food Program USA.
Taiz, where Al-Shorbag lives, is the center of the civil war. It’s a major target for armed attacks set off by both the Iranian aligned Houthi rebel movement and Yemen’s internationally recognized government. Houthis took over Sanaa, the country’s capital city, in September 2014. In response, Saudi Arabia led a group of Arab states to start a military campaign aimed to put Yemen’s government back in power.
Ever since, deadly airstrikes have hit essential infrastructure like schools and hospitals, killing 10,000 people. The UN called Yemen’s civil war the ‘world’s worst humanitarian crisis’ — over 8 million people rely on humanitarian food aid and live in the verge of famine. According to UNICEF, 2,500 schools in Yemen have been damaged or destroyed after the Saudi-led Arab coalition stepped in.
The future of education in Yemen depends on the generosity of selfless humanitarians like Al-Shorbagy, who refuse to give up on the country’s youth.