CharityMiddle East

Pockets of Happiness in Yemen

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Yemen now imports a staggering 90% of its food and 80% of all other goods. But war blights even that source. So when 130 children die each day in Yemen from lack of food and diseases like cholera and diphtheria (according to Save the Children), history makes a point to tell us this was avoidable.

The setting is a desert: hot during the day, too cold for comfort at night. Food desert has a more distinct meaning there, in Yemen, where many these days only get to eat meat because of Eid al-Adha distributions. Struck with cholera once again, they aren’t just lacking food. They lack clean water.

It’s difficult to picture from the United States or the United Kingdom, even as someone who lived in the Middle East. It’s not just the people lacking clean water; the food they eat lacks it, too. Those foods they need to counter malnutrition rely on water for cultivation, just as the human body does.

The sanitary, drinkable water they need to stay hydrated, cook, and clean gets trucked in. 

Struck with cholera once again as a result of war destroying infrastructure, nearly 18 million of Yemen’s population (which is about 27.5 million) go without food some days or many days, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET). About 2 million households, accounting for roughly 15 million people, rely on agriculture for their living, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports.

Now considering all that suffering, think of the smile on those faces as they see a truck driving into town to deliver clean water. Think about the peace of mind that comes with having clean water after seeing the effects of dirty water all around you, your community, and your country.

Once self-sufficient in cereal crops and legumes — maize, millet, sorghum, pulses (humus, lentils, beans), and traditionally renowned for coffee — Yemen now imports a staggering 90% of its food and 80% of all other goods. But war blights even that source. So when 130 children die each day in Yemen from lack of food and diseases like cholera and diphtheria (according to Save the Children), history makes a point to tell us this was avoidable.

These people don’t just deserve to feel safe eating and drinking in their homes — they had that same safety they now consider a luxury.

So we continue our work because we know our results are tangible. We know about the pockets of happiness we create in a ravaged country.

Zakat Foundation of America partners on the ground in Yemen work to sort and distribute food during Ramadan 2020. | Zakat Foundation of America photo

In the short term, we work with local partners like Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation to provide emergency food aid to Yemen’s famished. We use Iftar meals annually to feed thousands during Ramadan. We then come back and hand-deliver fresh, locally raised Udhiyah (Qurbani) sacrifices to hundreds of families each Eid al-Adha. 

We get to make people happy. It’s not something we do on our own. We do it as an Ummah every year. 

But we know we can’t be satisfied with making emergency deliveries. We need to support a long-term positive impact if we want to see improvement, so we at Zakat Foundation of America have partnered with Mercy Corps since 2017 to implement a food resilience program with Yemen’s sesame farmers

The program has resulted in at least a 25% higher sesame yield per hectare, and it doesn’t just help farmers grow more and better sesame. It gives them improved processing methods and ways to convert that sesame into other salable products. It also links them to valuable markets to sell it all, and it supports farmers in partnering with others to increase the value of their harvest.

Zakat Foundation of America donors doubled down, purchasing solar and fuel-powered generators for these farmers, which has, in turn, doubled sesame cooking oil presser production from the producers we sponsor. Farmer and processor incomes have increased, as has food availability for people in their towns.

A beneficiary of Zakat Foundation of America’s livestock program smiles, knowing he has animals that can help him gain financial independence. | Zakat Foundation of America photo

Long-term aid isn’t limited to farming, though. We also have enabled poor and vulnerable families to generate sustainable income and improve their food security by providing mating livestock. The animal husbandry program provides about 285 families with sufficient livestock — either sheep or chickens — to add more protein to their diet and generate surplus milk, eggs, or meat to market for expendable income.

It’s this type of sustainable livelihood that keeps people happy and hopeful amid daily concerns.

All this to say even as the Associated Press reports that humanitarian aid is dropping among top donors, the Zakat Foundation of America has seen Muslims’ mercy unwavered. Our donors helped counter the exponential threat of COVID-19 during a war-catalyzed cholera outbreak. The announcement of Hadramawt’s first confirmed coronavirus case April 10 sent shockwaves through the humanitarian community.

In Rada’a, Yemen, Zakat Foundation of America donors helped 2,500 people quarantine as needed at a university building between April and June. The program identified, procured, and provided disinfectants to quarantine stations and the local community, where people tend to gather at places such as markets and hospitals. This helped reduce exposure to the coronavirus by providing a controlled place for those returning to Yemen to stay during their quarantine period.

We need to continue acting on our merciful impulses so we, as Muslims, can lead and continue to lead the humanitarian effort.

The work can’t speak for itself. We have to speak for it. Humanitarians — both the ones funding the relief and the ones implementing it — need to speak to their peers about the impact this work has on individuals, communities, and (we hope) countries.

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