My holiday wish for the people of Yemen

By Abby Maxman
Oxfam America President Abby Maxman recently visited Oxfam's staff, partners, and programs in Yemen. Photo: Mohammed A. Quatab/Sam2Suns Media

My favorite thing about the holiday season is the chance for my family to come together and reconnect for quality time to relax, play, and reflect. As the year winds down, I can’t help but think of the families I met in Yemen earlier this year. I wonder, and worry, about how they’re coping.

As a mother of three children, I am ever-grateful for our many privileges—shelter from the cold, safety and freedom of movement, plentiful and nutritious food. As I think of my time in Yemen, a country ravaged by years of war yet full of resilient, caring people who share similar hopes and dreams as me and my family, I am pained knowing that more than half a million Yemenis are facing famine and freezing winter temperatures. Many live in makeshift shelters without insulation or enough to eat and fear the resumption of bombing and conflict each day.

As I write this, there are parents like me making unimaginable choices—desperate to save their children’s lives however they can.

I recall hearing the faded dreams of girls I met—a few years ago, they were working hard to get ahead in school with aspirations for their future; now they face being sold into early marriage to keep their parents and siblings alive. The faded dreams of boys sent off to fight—boy soldiers offered what is now the only "reliable" source of income to buy food for their families or gain access to the most rudimentary medical care. With so many schools damaged or destroyed by the Houthis and the US-supported, Saudi- and Emirati-led coalition, for many it seems like these are the best or only options.

This 30-year-old mother has lunch—only bread and tea—with her four children. Her family is not able to afford basic necessities such as food and water, let alone school and study materials. They live in a one-room house made of wood and pieces of threadbare cloths and rely on Oxfam’s cash assistance. Photo: Sami M. Jassar/Oxfam

I’m also thinking of the courageous Yemenis on the front lines of the humanitarian response, working every day at their own peril to save lives. Just like every other place where Oxfam works, local people are first to respond and best placed to understand the needs. Community-based organizations, Yemeni humanitarian agencies, and civil servants—many of whom are working more than two years without being paid their salaries—are on the first line of defense in the humanitarian crisis.

One of the highlights of my visit was meeting the leaders of the Yemen Family Care Association (YFCA). Founded in 1976 to promote reproductive health and family planning, the YFCA grew into a force for social change, human rights, and gender justice. Today, the YFCA is giving impartial, life-saving assistance in communities across the regions where it works, collaborating with international as well as local partners and taking risks for their fellow citizens in doing so. This example—and the countless Yemeni leaders and ordinary people supporting each other with what little they have—gives me hope and inspiration for Oxfam’s work in the New Year.

Although our work ahead in 2019 is daunting, we have seen real progress and have growing momentum to build upon. In addition to working with Yemeni organizations to strengthen their capacity to lead in their communities, as well as expanding the reach of our own life-saving assistance programs, we have started to see glimmers of progress towards peace as we build pressure on the parties to the conflict to resolve this horrific crisis.

This month, following the leadership of champions and allies in the US, and almost 83,000 Oxfam supporters who contacted their Members of Congress, the US Senate voted to end US involvement in the war in Yemen. On that same day, the parties to the conflict took a series of steps to move towards peace, including a ceasefire in the critical region that includes the port of Hodeidah, where most food and fuel enter the country. The timing of these events is no coincidence. Reports from the peace talks in Sweden note the vital role that US pressure played in moving the parties from confrontation to compromise.

We at Oxfam are going to keep fighting to end the underlying causes of preventable suffering for millions of innocent women, children and families—and we will need your help. In the New Year, we will work together to influence the 116th Congress to end arms sales to the parties and make clear once and for all that Americans’ principal interest in Yemen is the survival and prosperity of its people. We are a country that stands for human rights and the dignity and security of all people.

My wish is that at this time next year, my Yemeni friends are on the road to recovery, can believe again in what truly makes America great as a global leader and trusted ally, and are sharing in the peace, hope, and joy of this season that my family is so privileged to enjoy.

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