Could we start with you telling us a bit more about yourself and your life in Yemen before you started your project?
My name is Nouria Nagi Lived most of my life in England (London ) as a child I lived in France with my parents and when my father retired from his job we came to Aden and after few years left Aden and went to England in the seventies . I worked and studied in London and also did a lot of voluntary charitable work with the homeless and the old people homes and the local hospices in London .
You started your project “YERO” in your own house after you became a widow. What were those first months like, how difficult was it in the beginning?
YES I did start the project from my house it was hard in the begging like everything new you do for the first time especially that I did not know Sana’a very well and did not know what kind of a project I wanted to do .. I was thinking first of doing a home for the old people but then I was inspired by a little girl who has never been to school to do the project that I’m doing now ,,, helping children to free education plus vocational training for their mothers and empowering their mothers to become self-sufficient ,, I’m not a widow ,, I’m not married , nor I have children .but I do have 550 children who call me mama Nouria !
According to your estimation, how many Yemeni children have no access to any form of education today?
There are not a proper figure to tell us how many children are out of schools or never been to schools but I’m sure they are over 2,000000 million all over Yemen if not more ,, we have to think also of the kids who drop off schools to work so they can contribute to the family income .
Right now more than 450 children are part of the project, how did YERO change their lives?
We have 550 children,, which 11 of them have already graduated from university. 3 kids before the war graduated and 8 kids last week . We had a big ceremony, I’m so proud of them all because some of these kids had a hard life peddling items on the street of Sana’a or forced to work to contribute to the family income but despite the war and the hard life that they all have ,, yet they all did very well in finishing their study .Most of our kids now with education have ambitions and are more open minded and began to understand the value of education in transforming their life to the better
How many girls are part of YERO and is it more difficult to make their parents realize the need for girls to be as well educated as boys?
They are more girls than boys and at the binging it was hard for us to convince the fathers especially to let their girls continue their education but now since they saw how many girls are finishing university and finding good jobs because they have a degree and skills for computers and a little English ,, it helps them to get work faster than a person without a degree
You are not only concentrating on the children but are also trying to support the entire family, for example via sewing workshops for the mothers. How important is it for Yemeni women to gain some form of financial independence and how are these attempts received by the husbands?
We concentrate more on the families of the children because they are the reason the children are in the street there for it is very important for us to sort out the issues of the parents problems so we can help the child to be educated ,,, remember that most kids have to work to help the families and when we help the child mother to learn a skill to enable her earn an income to help her family ,, they are also encouraged to develop small business projects through our interest free loans .this way we are helping the families to earn an income and also helping the child to be less in the street .The husbands are happy that their wives are supporting themselves and the families,,, we sometimes get men asking us if they could enroll their wives in the sewing program !!!
The job situation in Yemen is devastating right now. How many of your graduates do not find a job after finishing school?
You are right no jobs are available right now in Yemen ,, even people who had jobs they lost it because of the war and even before the war ,, Yemen since the revolution and before has been going more downhill.
Most of our graduate went through us (YERO) with recommendations letters to companies to gain work experience for free and with the new graduate we will do the same we help paying transport money when it.is needed and we continue to help their families with food ration and EID clothes until either they get proper pay or get married if they want to , As long as they are educated even if the marriage did not work the girl will not go to the street or have a hard life like her mother or grandmother who has never been educated .
Is YERO directly affected by the war, have schools been closed or destroyed, is medical treatment still available to all children?
Sure we are affected like all Yemenis ,, our center was partly damaged and windows broken and part of the roof was also damaged plus we were always afraid that we were not going to make it the next day .
Schools reopened in November 2015 some of our kids were wounded but luckily not so bad ,,,,, myself was nearly killed twice !!!! we all suffered with the war,, no sleeping most nights because of the air strikes and the bombardment ,,, it was very hard life we all faced !
Anyone can be a YERO sponsor. For 200€ a year you can be the sponsor of one particular child, send letters back and forth and even visit the child. Have many of those meetings between child and sponsor have taken place (before the war) and how aware are the sponsors of how profoundly they change those children’s lives?
First of all I want to say how grateful I’m to Dr Annelies whom without her finding the sponsors and doing her upmost to promote our work and YERO we would not be where we are today ,,, so thanks to her and all the kind sponsors ,,because of their great support our kids are doing their best to be educated because they don’t have to worry about everything they need for schooling everything is provided for them plus at the center we help the children do their homework and teach them computers,,,, English lessons 3 days a week to enable them to do better in schools .Yes some of the sponsors have met the kids and they were happy to see and know how good these children are doing despite the extreme poverty they live in …. yet they do try so hard to change their circumstances to the better.. I’m sure that the sponsors are aware that by sponsoring a child they give the child a new aspect for the future also through our yearly reports about the child explain that we do monitor and follow up on the child progress assure them that the child is successful at school but I think it would be nice if we could ask them too ! .
In 2013 Queen Elizabeth II rewarded you with the “Order of the British Empire”, please tell us about that day in Buckingham Palace and how proud have your children back in Yemen been?
For me it was a great honor to be received by HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH ,All the way to the palace I was thinking of Yemen and all the kids and when they announced my name and the award for the Humanitarian work in Yemen ,,, I was so proud when they said the name of Yemen in Buckingham Palace it was a day full of happiness for me ,,, my kids ,,and everyone who knew about it in Yemen or out of Yemen specially that I’m the only Arab women who has received such an reward . when I came back I was received like a warier who has won a battle by all the kids their families and everyone in the streets who knew about it , great feeling for all of us.
A few weeks back I talked to Nadia al-Sakkaf, Yemen’s former Information Minister, and she thinks it will take decades for the country to recover from the war, even if it did end tomorrow (and unfortunately, it will not). What future do you see for your country in general and for YERO in particular?
It goes without saying ,, while intelligent people can often simplify what is complex , a fool is more likely to complicate what is simple !! This is what is happening in Yemen ,, but still
no one can live without hope ,, we might as well die if we lose hope !! however ,,, they are times when one is despair and give- up ,, but in my opinion you never loss hope about your country !! if you come and see how the country is and how badly damaged you would think that there is no hope !!! and you will say to yourself it will take forever for it to recover !! but with the determination of the Yemenis they will rebuild everything ,, the sad thing is that we cannot bring back the incent people who died because of the selfishness of so called leaders who are now enjoying themselves taking advantage of the wealth and everything else,,, they are secured and their families
when the poor people here are doing their upmost to provide themselves and families with basic needs .
I think this country needs good educated politicians who care and love their country not only think of themselves and their welfare !!! .As for the future ,, the whole world is in a big mess !! not only Yemen ,, we are better off than some of the countries who face the same mess if not more but still I’m very hopeful that tomorrow is another day and that it will bring good for Yemen and the kind lovely people of Yemen who deserve to live with dignity and respect .
My hope and dream for YERO is to expand so we can educate more children and help more families in need ,