Yemen: Rafiqa's story

Posted by Amal Alariqi Communication and Information Officer, Yemen

27th Sep 2012

Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes in Abyan, Yemen, in the last year because of ongoing conflict. I spoke to Rafiqa, who recently fled her village and sought refuge in an abandoned school where Oxfam is providing vital water and sanitation facilities.

For two months, Rafiqa had to queue along with hundreds of other displaced women, to use the only bathroom in the Al Amadia'a school in Aden. The school is home to around 120 families who were forced to leave their homes in neighboring Ayban after heavy fighting between Islamist groups and the Yemeni army.

"It was really difficult," she said. "Women in particular suffered, as there was no privacy, and this issue was considered minor compared to our tough situation. There was only one tap, where we raced to get water for drinking and washing. Women had to wake up really early to ensure that they could get water before large crowds gathered in front the tap." Rafiqa who was the head of a women's association in Abyan before she was forced to flee.

"Oxfam was the first organisation that helped people at this school. It was ignored for two months by many humanitarian agencies," said Rafiqa.

"Most families left their belongings behind when they fled their homes in Abyan and had no choice but to share what  was available. Many families had to share the one available broom to clean their rooms. Cleaning was particularly important as many children had become ill from bad sanitation," she added.

As a first step, Oxfam provided each family with a hygiene kit consisting of cleaning materials, and sanitation products.

"Oxfam changed our life. We were really in need of hygiene kits. The materials helped us to properly take care of ourselves," said Rafiqa.

After this initial response, Oxfam built 18 extra bathrooms in the school, two areas  for washing clothes, and installed water tanks to ensure that the site had access to 2,000 litres of drinking water each day.

Since April 2011, more than 200,000 people have been seeking temporary refuge in 81 schools and public buildings. Of those, through coordination with other agencies, Oxfam has been designated to work in 21. Before Oxfam's support, many of the schools didn't have enough toilets for the amount of people arriving, and around four families had to share one classroom together.

Oxfam has helped 12,000 displaced people temporarily living in schools and camps in Aden, by rehabilitating water systems and providing hygiene kits.

Oxfam has conducted weekly meetings with men and women to help them understand their needs and promote good hygiene and public health. Through volunteer groups established within the community, Oxfam has also helped to raise awareness about good hygiene practices and ensure the schools' new facilities are maintained.

"Many families had come from rural remote villages in Abyan where basic hygiene practices are not really common," Rafiqa said. "The awareness sessions really helped to change people's attitudes and women understood the importance of good sanitation."

Oxfam's response to the Yemen crisis

Emergencies Oxfam is working on

Blog post written by Amal Alariqi

Communication and Information Officer, Yemen

More by Amal Alariqi