WASHINGTON - In the open space in front of a home-turned-school, hundreds of students line up to sing the national anthem before heading to their classrooms.
Once occupied by Yemeni teacher Adel al-Shurihi and his family, the classrooms now accommodate nearly 700 students.
Adel al-Shurihi, an English teacher who lives in Taez in southwestern Yemen, founded the school in 2015 with a vision to protect the town's children from the continued perils of the ongoing war.
He turned his three-story house into what he named al-Nahda, or renaissance school, with 13 classrooms and separate bathrooms for boys and girls.
Al-Shurihi told VOA from his hometown that the children's safety and the need to give them a sense of normalcy in the midst of war was what motivated him to open the school.
“Falling bombs and planted land mines made it harder for children to reach their schools," al-Shurihi told VOA. "Because of the war, my children, and the children of everyone I know, were unable to get their education. So, I decided to turn my own house into a school so that students could get their education safely.”
Al-Shurihi added, “Our area is close to the clashes between Houthi rebels and government forces, and I wanted the children and their families to live a normal life away from engaging in the war in any way.”
Al-Shurihi said Yemen’s education crisis is larger than just opening a single school and requires concerted efforts by the international community to intervene. But he said he feels he is at least doing something positive for his community.
In addition to regular subjects such as math and Arabic literature being taught, the school — through informal lectures — also emphasizes the importance of coexistence, tolerance and intercommunal understanding in an effort to instill a renewed sense of hope for a better future, and spread the spirit of inclusivity to the next generation of Yemeni children.
Al-Shurihi added that because of the growing student population, his school needs more teachers. It is a constant challenge to find volunteer teachers.
He also said a scarcity of books, blackboards, stationery and other supplies is also an ongoing struggle. There are no chairs and tables. Students sit on a rug on the ground.
Tens of thousands of Yemeni teachers went on strike in recent months in government-controlled areas, demanding better salaries. Tens of thousands more in rebel-controlled areas have not been paid in two years, according to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
UNICEF's deputy representative in Yemen Sherin Varkey, says this is a risk for "Millions of children."
Varkey added that there have been 270 attacks on schools since the conflict began. About 12 percent of all schools in the country have been damaged.
Female students are paying a bigger price for the conflict. Earlier this month, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that 31 percent of girls are out of school in Yemen due to the ongoing conflict. Compared to boys, girls are at a higher risk of losing access to primary and secondary education, the U.N. said.
War in Yemen
The war in Yemen began in 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition started a ground and air campaign in support of the government of exiled President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi after Houthi rebels took over the Yemeni capital, Sana’a.
Since then, there has been fierce fighting in different parts of the country, which has turned into a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with Iran supporting the Houthi rebels.
Local and international aid agencies warn that the conflict in Yemen has created one of the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century, seriously undermining the local economy and leading to poverty and severe famine that threatens millions of people, including children.
Some aid organizations are warning that neglecting children’s education amidst the ongoing conflict could have negative long-term consequences for the war-torn country.
“What is also important is that we know that the children who lose out on education are more at risk of falling into negative coping mechanisms like child labor, then the higher probability of being vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups and the very worrying social norms of child marriage,” Varkey said.