Plight of teachers in Yemen goes ‘unheard’

Coinciding World Teachers Day, Yemeni teacher’s body charges Houthi militants for killing 1,500 teachers, imprisoning 600.

Plight of teachers in Yemen goes ‘unheard’

Besides being denied salaries, teachers in war-ravaged Yemen are subjected to killings, kidnappings, displacements, and forced disappearances, claims the teacher’s body.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency coinciding the World Teachers Day on Tuesday, spokesman of Yemeni Teachers Syndicate, Yahya al-Yanai, said teachers in the country were experiencing the worst violations. He said that three of his colleagues were executed in the capital Sanaa on Sept. 18 by Houthi rebels.

“While the government has been reluctant to pay the salaries of more than 21,000 displaced teachers, the Houthis have done the worst violations against teachers since their coup in 2014,” he said.

While World Teachers’ Day aims to focus on appreciating, assessing, and improving the educators of the world, teachers in Yemen are scurrying for cover to save their lives.

Yanai claimed that since 2014, Houthi militants have targeted teachers.

“Houthi militants killed more than 1,500 teachers, injured nearly 2,400, displaced more than 20,000, and took the lives of 22 imprisoned teachers after torturing them to death,” he said.

He said the militant group also destroyed 21 schools and 44 homes of teachers. Further 90 schools were converted into detention centers.

Yanai said that more than 600 teachers including Saad al-Nazili, head of Sanaa branch of the Yemeni Teacher’s Syndicate, are still in Houthi prisons.

“There are 32 teachers who have disappeared after Houthi militants kidnapped them from their homes and schools from 2015-16,” he added.

The civil war that began in the country in late 2014 has enormously affected the lives of teachers as thousands of them have been denied salaries.

Absence of salaries

Yanai said the shortage of salaries for years has forced many teachers to drop out of school and look for other sources of income.

“Some returned to villages to farm, others turned into street vendors, some joined the fighting militias to earn some money to support their families, and some fled the country to find work in other countries,” he said.

Nabiha al-Rubasi, a female teacher with three children, had to escape Sanaa to Istanbul for safety reasons and to find a source of living.

“I worked as a teacher in Sanaa for 20 years. I left Yemen and came to Istanbul with my mother, brother, and three children. I abandoned teaching and started a job that I never thought I would do. I am now selling home-cooked food,” she said.

For years, more than a million state employees living in Houthi-controlled areas have not received any salaries, which has led to an increase in extreme poverty and deteriorating living conditions.

Rubasi said the war and its effects on her life have erased her identity, profession, and sense of humanity.

“We used to celebrate freely all national and international occasions, especially the World Teachers’ Day. We used to organize scientific, religious, and cultural exhibitions, and there were many competitions between various schools without any obstacles. But now, those things are just memories,” she said.

Yanai mentioned some incidents where teachers were forced to commit suicides. He recalled that a teacher in Sanaa jumped from a high-rise building in January 2019 after he was unable to provide basic needs to his family.

Reports of suicides by teachers

In the Ibb governorate located south of the country, another teacher committed suicide in October 2019. Dhamar governorate, southeast of the capital Sanaa also witnessed a third suicide incident in April 2021.

The spokesman said that teachers are suffering from psychological disorders. Many teachers have sold their properties to earn a living.

According to the UN, Houthis have been collecting taxes and other state revenues meant to provide basic services to citizens. But they have diverted a large portion up to at least $1.8 billion to fund the war instead of paying salaries.

Analysts said that in a war-torn country like Yemen, the plight of teachers has been pushed to the background.

Yanai said that ensuring the teachers’ ability to perform their jobs safely and get their salaries regularly will “motivate students to choose to enroll in schools over joining the armed Houthi militias”.

He asked the international community to show its commitment to protecting teachers and schools in the country.

“The international community, donors, and friends of Yemen should support more teachers-related projects which will contribute to keep more people away from fighting fronts and eventually end the war,” Yanai said.

The crisis in Yemen has caused one of the world's worst man-made humanitarian crises, with 80% of the population in need of assistance and protection.