Articles in Category: Jemen

Salt for Sewing

Written by Helene Aecherli on Wednesday, 02 March 2022. Posted in Jemen

Social Enterprise in Yemen

 

 

The project “Salt for Sewing” in the Yemeni capital Sana’a offers basic handicraft classes to women to empower them to eventually build small businesses of their own. And – the classes create a counter narrative to war and destruction.


The long wooden table is covered with protective sheets, scissors, and pieces of fabric; on its left end there are two sewing machines, on the other a tray with tiny cups of tea and water. About half a dozen women sit around it and try to keep an eye on their work as well as on their teacher. Their agitated voices echo in the classroom - a former garage, with walls painted in beige and white, the heavy doors covered with light rose curtains. Here, Halima and her colleague Jamila meet their students three times a week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday mornings. From eight to ten Jamila teaches jewelry making, then Halima takes over to give a two-hour-lesson in basic sewing techniques. So far, their students have produced children’s’ clothes, handbags, belts, bracelets necklaces and earrings; the items could easily fill the display of a handicraft shop. And hopefully, one day they will – be it in a big store or in a small one. This is what the project “Salt for Sewing” is aiming at. Its vision is its programme. “One thousand miles start with a first step”, says Shyma’a, the supervisor of the classes. “And the first step for this project was the determination to do something for the Yemeni society – mainly for women.” Because if you empower women, you strengthen the whole community.

 

 Handicraft classes in a former garage.

“Salt for Sewing” is handicraft project initiated in Switzerland to be materialized Yemen – in the true sense of the word. It trains women who have no access to formal education to achieve basic handicraft skills so that they will be able to build a small enterprise to generate an income for their families as well as for themselves. And, as Shyma’a emphasizes, it supports them to excel in work they love and are talented in.

 

Yemeni women are highly talented in handicrafts. This beautiful dress has just been finished in the class.


“Salt for Sewing” started in the Yemeni capital Sana’a last summer, but its actual launch goes back to 2015. And I must admit, it came into existence because of a mistake, or better: a misunderstanding.

At that time just shortly after the war broke out my friend Jamil, a businessman from Sana’a whom I had known for years, still had a stall at a Christmas market in Zürich. He sold beautiful Yemeni goods such as lamps, jewelry, shawls – and small handmade baskets filled with fleur de sel. I immediately fell in love with them - and the salt. What added to their beauty was the fact that they were made by Jamil’s sister Boshra and her friends in their village in Ibb, a governorate about 150 kilometers South of Sana’a, and the salt was distributed by a women's cooperative on the Yemeni island Socotra. I asked Jamil to send me 15 pieces as soon as he would be back to his storage facility. The baskets would be perfect gifts for friends and family. A couple of weeks later I received a huge package and when I opened it, I found 50 baskets, neatly wrapped, and about three kilos of salt.

Handmade baskets from Ibb that were sent to Zürich.

First, I was angry. What should I do with 50 baskets and so much salt? Where should I store all this? I was tempted to send the baskets back again, but then I had the idea to make a business out of it: I would sell the baskets with the salt for 15 Swiss francs each to fund a project that could ease the life of people in Yemen at least a little bit. I was thinking of oxygen bottles for hospitals or even of medication. To find out how the money could be invested best I asked Jamil to check with his sister what she thought they needed most in her village. She answered that they desperately needed one or two sewing and embroidery machines, textiles and above all the salary for a teacher. This would help young women to achieve skills to support their families and to increase their chances of getting married.

Actually, I was a little disappointed. Women and sewing – this was the most conventional set up I could think of. However, as the project shouldn’t be about my desires but about something women in a rural area in Yemen really needed, I agreed. And called the project “Salt for Sewing Machines.” 

They desperately needed one or two sewing and embroidery machines, textiles and above all the salary for a teacher. This would help young women to achieve skills to support their families and to increase their chances of getting married.

People in Switzerland loved the salt baskets and the story behind the project. Boshra and her friends produced loads and loads of baskets – they got paid for their work, if course – later they added fruit bowls and small make-up bags to their range of products. And for years the baskets found their way to Switzerland, even though their postal route got more and more adventurous. One of the last packages was sent in a UN-Plane to Djibouti, then delivered to Paris and finally to Zürich. However, eventually, “Salt for Sewing Machines” faded out. I was told that all women from the village as well as from the surrounding villages, who had wanted to learn the art of sewing, had gone through the classes, many of them had then continued to work on their own, sewed beautiful dresses for the kids in the local orphanage or were hired to repair clothes for friends and neighbors. And some had actually got married.

Last summer the project came to a halt. I was left with 50 baskets, 3 fruit bowls, 10 make-up bags and some salt.

Were they tokens of an end or symbols of a restart?

I discussed the issue with Shyma’a. Shyma’a lives in Sana’a, is a mother of five and a teacher for illiterate women. She and her husband had invited me to stay with them at their house whenever I was in Yemen. The way we met is a beautiful story on its own, beautiful also, because it built the foundation of our friendship. Thus, I was thrilled when Shyma’a suggested to restart the project in Sana’a and offered to be the supervisor. There wouldn’t be better hands to put “Salt for Sewing Machines” into. To make the restart more tangible we changed the name to “Salt 4 Sewing”.

Shyma’a went to work. She set up a budget, roamed through the shops to look for affordable sewing machines, compared prices and qualities, bought textiles, hired two teachers, Halima and Jamila, before being recruited Jamila had been working as a cleaner at a medical center. Then she searched for a suitable classroom, and as she realized that the rent would be too high, she decided to use the garage of her house, had the walls painted and sent me pictures to keep me updated about the process.

 

 A shop for sewing machines in Sana'a.

 

Shyma'a and her colleague are checking out sewing machines.

The first class started with twelve students, some where women from her and her teachers’ neighbourhoods, some were students from her literacy class, two were relatives. Since the relaunch in September totally 25 trainees have gathered in the garage to be taught the first steps of sewing and jewelry making. The current class consists of 13 women. The sew everything they learn for themselves or for their children. Both Halima and Jamila are very strict in fulfilling their agenda and in keeping their students committed. Women, who haven’t attended the classes more than three days in a row without presenting a strong reason, are expelled from the training. So far, the dropout rate has been marginal.

Tea during jewellery class.

Sometimes, Shyma’a hears the women laugh while she is in the house doing her daily chores. That makes her happy. “I think they are having a good time”, she says. If the talking and laughing seem to be getting too much, Halima jokingly asks the women to go and help Shyma’a in the house. In the last weeks, since Sana’a is bombarded regularly again by Saudi and UAE fighter jets as retaliation for the Houthi aggression towards Abu Dhabi, the classes have also become something like a safe space; a place that creates a counter narrative to fear and destruction. “The women take good care of each other after the last night’s bombs”, Shyma’a tells me. “Each woman talks about her feelings and gives an account of how she lived through the night, whether she had been wide awake or sleeping.” Shyma’a thanks God every morning that she and her family are still alive and feels sad for the ones, who died.

Since Sana’a has been bombarded regularly again by Saudi and UAE fighter jets as retaliation for the Houthi aggression towards Abu Dhabi, the classes have also become something like a safe space; a place that creates a counter narrative to fear and destruction.


At the time being Shyma’a is looking for handicraft shops that will sell the items produced in the classes and I am checking with my contacts at international organizations whether there are chances to have the products displayed and sold at bazars or the like. Or if I could get some of the products to Switzerland to sell them here to generate new funds for the project. One day, that’s our vision, we will take “Salt 4 Sewing” further, perhaps offer classes in basic computing, reading or even English on top of the handicraft workshops. Some trial classes might be held during the school vacation from June till the end of August - provided, says Shyma’a, that we are ready with computers, curricula, and teachers.

 

The women make dresses.... 

 

...and combs.... 

...and a wide selection of jewellery 

 

There is still a long way to go.
But as Shyma’a concluded: “One thousand miles start with a first step.”
The first steps have been taken.

 

 

One of the most beautiful dresses.
All pictures by Shyma'a

 

 

"Yemen should be a just, civic and democratic state for all"

Written by Helene Aecherli on Friday, 21 December 2018. Posted in Jemen

Civil society in Yemen

The first round of peace negotiations in Stockholm offer a big chance for war-torn Yemen to finally enter into a sustainable peace process. But there is one central aspect missing: Yemeni women still aren't included in the negotiations. Antelak Almutawakal, one of the strongest voices of Yemeni civil society, asks the international community to relentlessly push for peace in Yemen, to stopp the arms trade to forces involved in the war and above all: to get women from all conflict parties to the negotiation table. “It’s not only a matter of rights”, she says. “It’s a matter of needs.”

 


View of the rooftops of the Yemeni capital Sana'a. The photo has been taken before the war.
But Sana'a is still one of the most beautiful capitals of the world.
Photo: Helene Aecherli 

 

From The Edge of Hope

Written by Helene Aecherli, Abdo K. Ramadan on Friday, 26 October 2018. Posted in Jemen

A spotlight on Yemen

Far beyond international attention the war in Yemen is entering its fourth year. It's a multi-layered war in which national as well as regional actors are hopelessly entangled, the Saudi military coalition being one of the driving forces. Tens of thousands of Yemeni civilians have been killed and a famine of epic dimensions is lingering. The famine is not only due to the lack of food but also of the lack of means to buy food as government employees haven't received any salaries for over two years. That's the layer of economic warfare. So far there is no political will to push for peace negotiations. 
And in the midst of this all there are civilians fighting for survival, hope and dignity. One of them is Abdo Ramadan, father of five, manager of a big company in Sana'a. He goes to work every day, even if there is hardly any work to be done. He and his wife struggle desperately to send their kids to school and to uphold the routines of everyday life. To ease his despair Abdo Ramadan seeks refuge in poetry, its rhythms and rhymes. He wrote two poems to publish here and frames them with pictures of his youngest daughters as for him and his wife they are symbols of hope - and of the future of their country.

Aseel (7) is getting ready to face the day. Photo: Abdo Ramadan

"Airstrike just hit, house and myself shaking..."

Written by Helene Aecherli on Tuesday, 05 December 2017. Posted in Jemen

Stop the War in Yemen

Women as Symbols of Hope

on Monday, 17 April 2017. Posted in Jemen

Paintings by Yemeni artist Mazher Nizar

"Motherland Yemen" by Mazher Nizar


That art catches my attention and stirs emotions I cannot really grasp, happens rarely to me. It is like falling in love: You cannot explain it, but you know when it is there. And then it makes you dizzy, it moves you and doesn’t get off your mind.
Such were my reactions when I discovered the paintings of India-born Yemeni artist Mazher Nizar - will say, his paintings of women. 

"Why I went back to a war zone"

on Tuesday, 15 November 2016. Posted in Jemen

War in Yemen

Layla M. Asda (26) and her family wanted to escape the war in Yemen. They wanted to live in safety. So they said goodbye to their country and went to Malaysia. But in Kuala Lumpur they just lived the war from abroad, which was even worse as they were safe while their loved ones were not. And then their longing for their country, their people, their house and the smell of the earth in Sana'a after the rain became overwhelming. "I discovered that there is a stronger feeling than fear", says Layla. "It's the urge to get the feeling of belonging back."
After eight months in safety they returned to Yemen. They went home to a war zone. Here Layla gives a gripping account of their journey. 

The Yemeni capital Sana'a is a war zone. But it keeps mesmerising its inhabitants. And the rainbow is a symbol of hope. Photo: Essam Al-Kadas 

Salt for Sewing Machines

Written by Helene Aecherli on Friday, 18 March 2016. Posted in Jemen

Support the Yemeni people

The war in Yemen started almost exactly one year ago. It has caused a humanitarian disaster that is comparable to the one in Syria - only that the war in Syria has been going on for five years. The war in Yemen however hasn't caught widespread international attention, the suffering of the people, the destruction of the social fabric and the infrastructure of the country happen basically off radar.

But - regardless of how devastating the war is: There is life and there are aims. The beautiful baskets filled with fleur du sel from the Yemeni island Socotra are signs of it. They are made by Boshrah and her friends in the village Al Nuzhah. Boshrah is the sister of a dear friend of mine in Sanaa. The salt is distributed by a women's cooperation on Socotra. I sell the baskets and the salt to fund a sewing project in the village Al Nuzhah. The project will help young women to achieve basics skills and to build a future. 

"Stop gambling with our lives!"

Written by Helene Aecherli on Sunday, 20 September 2015. Posted in Jemen

War in Yemen

The situation in the war torn country has become apocalyptic and, after a frantic bombing campaign, there is still an all all out ground war looming over the capital Sana’a. Meanwhile within the UN Human Rights Council the Netherlands push for a neutral, international inquiry on Yemen.

Destroyed houses in the historical Old Sana'a. Photo credit: General Organization for the Preservation of the historical Cities in Yemen GOPHCY

Fighter jets hover over the Yemeni capital, and the airstrikes and bombs fuse into a traumatic cacophony that goes on sometimes for minutes, sometimes for as long as 32 hours, causing incessant loops of fear, sleep deprivation, destruction and death. And an increasing awareness dawns upon the three million inhabitants that there is also a cat-and-mouse game going on, a terribly distorted one, leaving the city on the brink of collapse.

"It's raining missiles. A nightmare that refuses to end!"

Written by Helene Aecherli on Tuesday, 21 July 2015. Posted in Jemen

Yemenis write about the war in their country

Yemenis want to be heard. They need to be heard. Thus I have asked Yemeni friends of mine, men and women, to tell their stories, to give a personal account of their experiences of the war in Yemen and to send me pictures that illustrate their texts. I will post them here on this website, one by one. I hope their writing will have an impact.

Layla M. Asda (26) is doing her Master in International Development and Gender at the university of Sana'a. She is ready to take her country forward. But she is stranded in the war. As million of other young Yemenis. In her  text she gives a painfully detailed account of how the war affects her and her country. And she appeals to the war faring fractions to realise that there is no point of waging wars. It only creates destruction, hatred and the urge for revenge.

 

 

 

“It’s raining!” I felt happy because “rain is what I adore”, I thought to myself as I heard the sounds of thunder. Yes, it turned out to be rain - but a different kind of rain: It was raining missiles!

"There was an explosion of tears"

Written by Helene Aecherli on Thursday, 16 July 2015. Posted in Jemen

Yemenis write about the war

Yemenis want to be heard. They need to be heard. Thus I have asked Yemeni friends of mine, men and women, to tell their stories, to give a personal account of their experiences of the war in Yemen and to send me pictures that illustrate their texts. I will post them here on this website, one by one. I hope their writing will have an impact.
 
Jamil Al Faqih, a business man from Sana'a and father of three children, describes in his account how it was to be stuck in India when the war in Yemen broke loose.
 

 

This is the story that happened to me and my wife during our medical trip to India. After my wife had been sufferring from a spinal illness for three years we decided to travel to India to get a treatment based on the recommendations of some friends. We flew on March 17th 2015 leaving behind our three children: Yasmin 21, Sam 17 and Mazen 10 years. We were supposed to fly back on the 31st of the same month.

"What will you do when this war ends?” - “LIVE!”

Written by Helene Aecherli on Thursday, 09 July 2015. Posted in Jemen

Yemenis write about the war

Yemenis want to be heard. They need to be heard. Thus I have asked Yemeni friends of mine, men and women, to tell their stories, to give a personal account of their experiences of war and to send me pictures that illustrate their texts. I will post them here on this website, one by one. I hope their writing will have an impact.
 
The third account of this series is written by Samia Al-Ansi (36). She works in the humanitarian sector as a country logistics manager in Sana'a. And one day she might be a writer of short stories. Her text below gives you a taste of her talent.
 

 

"I have lived in my own bubble. My eyes used to be closed during the Arab spring, I didn’t want to face the conflicts that were raging in some cities in Yemen, didn’t want to be confronted with the suffering of the world. I didn’t watch tv and didn’t care about politics. 

“Then you realize that you didn’t have any hallucinations”

Written by Helene Aecherli on Friday, 03 July 2015. Posted in Jemen

Yemenis write about the war

Yemenis want to be heard. They need to be heard. Thus I have asked Yemeni friends of mine, men and women, to tell their stories, to give a personal account of their experiences of war and to send me pictures that illustrate their texts. I will post them here on this website, one by one.

Here is an as impressive as gripping account of the war in Yemen, written by Aiman Al Hakeem (39). He works as a banker in Sana'a. 


Suddenly without any warnings there were explosions everywhere. It was almost 2.30 am on the 26th of March 2015. I didn’t know what's going on. I opened my mobile phone to find out and saw a message from my group of friends stating that the Saudi Air Force had destroyed Sana’a’s international airport. 

Being Under Attack

Written by Helene Aecherli on Sunday, 28 June 2015. Posted in Jemen

Yemenis write about the war

In Yemen rages an erratic multilateral war that has so far killed over two thousand people. 22 million, 80 percent of the population, are lacking food, water and basic health care; a humanitarian disaster which is worsened by a naval blockade imposed by the Saudis to cut off arms supplies to rebel forces. The Geneva peace talks that were held last week brought no result. 
However the war in Yemen hardly rarely gets into the headlines of international media. It is off the radar of international attention.
But Yemenis want to be heard. They need to be heard. Thus I have asked Yemeni friends of mine, men and women, to tell their stories, to give a personal account of their experiences of war and to take pictures that illustrate their texts. I will post them here on this website, one by one.
I hope their writings will have an impact.
 
Yemeni men and women waiting to get water. Photo: Abdo Ramadan
 
 The first account is by Abdo Ramadan, a business man from Sana'a:
 
It is not easy to describe how life has turned upside down since March 26th 2015. Words are not enough to reveal the sufferings we endure as a family that lives in the Yemeni capital Sana’a under the attacks of missiles and bombs as a daily exercise. During each attack we expect death by a missile that smashes our lovely roof taking its way to take our souls. 
 

"Everything is collapsing"

Written by Helene Aecherli on Saturday, 13 June 2015. Posted in Jemen

War in Yemen

 

Picture by Abdo Ramadan


When I woke up to the news last Friday that five houses in the Old City of Sana'a had been allegedly hit by a Saudi led coalition airstrike and turned into ashes and rubble, it felt, as if I had been hit myself. The Saudis were quick to deny the claims and blamed the Houthi rebels for the collapse of the buildings. But whether it were the Saudis, the Houthis or both: The strike killed at least six people and destroyed houses that had been some of the jewels of Islamic-urban landscape, breathing 2500 years of Yemeni history. And I repeat: I felt as if I had been hurt myself.

"The silence of the world kills us more than the missiles"

Written by Helene Aecherli on Tuesday, 05 May 2015. Posted in Jemen

Stop Bombing Yemen!

Yesterday night one of my best friends in Sanaa sent me an email that lists the disastrous consequences of the Saudi bombing of Yemen. He asked me to send his list to as many media outlets as possible. He wrote to me: "You should know one thing: We are not afraid of being killed by the attacks. We are afraid of hunger and losing dignity. And in the end the silence of the world kills us more than the missiles of the coward powers."

Here is his list: