Shaimaa and the War on Children in Yemen

By Faraj al-Matari. This is a story I want to share with you.

Shaimaa is a 9-year-old girl living with her mother and her grandfather. She has 3 brothers and sisters: Her elder sister is 11 and her younger brother is 5 years old. Shaimaa lives in Sana’a in a district called Jader east of Sana’a airport. The Jader district is considered one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Sana’a.

Our story begins with our team distributing food and blankets in this neighbourhood.

When we walked to the door of Shaimaa’s house, an old man opened the door and welcomed us: “Are you from the charity that distributes food baskets?” I said: “Yes, we brought these gifts to you and I hope you accept them from us as a modest help”. The man called the children inside the house. Three children, including Shaimaa, came out and flipped and inspected what we had brought and became very happy.

I asked them if we could take a picture. Shaimaa refused and asked: “Why do you want us to be on a photo?” I told her: “It’s a routine procedure. We have to document this work and send pictures to the donors who fund the purchase of this relief”. She said: “Well you can take a picture but before that I have a question: What is written in English on this sign that you want to picture us next to it?” I told her that this sign is the name and logo of our organization ‘Yemen Friends’. Shaimaa interrupted me angrily and said: “Who told you that there are friends of Yemen? There are no friends for Yemen!” She kept talking and talking loudly to the rest of our team. „Bombs are thrown at us. Even the Yemenis are no longer friends of Yemen. They are fighting each other and destroying their own country”. And then she explained that she could no longer go to school and that her father left her and went to the front lines. I told her: “Yes, unfortunately, to some extent your words are correct, but the matter is not as you think. Not all people and all countries are enemies of Yemen. There are still many friends of Yemen. For example, in Europe and the Arab world there are friends who love Yemen and the children of Yemen.”

Shaimaa interrupted me again and said: “Weapons, bombs and rockets are sold to kill the children of Yemen”. Then I approached Shaimaa and said to her: „Shaimaa, there is a difference between people and their governments. My little daughter there are few bad guys in this world and most people are good and very concerned.” Shaimaa interrupted me again and said: “Uncle, uncle! I have a last question. Why the bad guys always win regardless their minority over good people and they are many?” This question was shocking to me. I knew the answer and I would be able to reply if the question came from an adult, but to a child? I had to give simple and convincing answer. So, I closed the discussion and said: “Give me time to think and let us take pictures first and then complete our discussion.” Shaimaa said „Yes, I agree, but I have a final request. Can you give my friend and neighbour, Fatima, a blanket? Because she told me she could not sleep at night because of the cold.” I told her: “Yes, we will.”

We finished taking pictures and finally completed the task. The rest of the team became involved in the distribution, while Shaimaa worked with her grandfather and brothers to bring the aid into their home. I stayed next to Shaimaa’s house, and I took my cigar and started smoking and thinking about Shaimaa’s question. Before I finished smoking, I heard her voice again as she called and ran towards me: “my uncle, my uncle” I said: “Yes, Shaimaa, what do you have?”

She said: “See Sana’a International Airport right there”. I told her: “Yes, I know that.” Then she said: „Three years ago, before the airport was closed and destroyed, I remember that when I went to the roof of our house, I always watched the take-off and landing of the planes, and it was my dream since my childhood to go abroad and learn piloting.” I said to her: “Wonderful Shaimaa, this is a beautiful dream, and you have to strive to achieve it.” Shaimaa interrupted me again and said: „But I changed my mind. I dream of being a soldier and driving a warplane to throw missiles and bombs“. I interrupted her this time and said to her: “This is wrong thinking, Shaima, do you want to be among the few bad guys who frighten the children and kill them?” And I said: “O Shaimaa only with love, we can make peace, only with love dear Shaimaa. „Oh, my uncle,“ she replied, „your words are true.“ Then she thought a bit and said: “I have a new idea, uncle; I will drive my plane and throw chocolate and yellow, red and white flowers.” I was amazed at that great idea, hugging her and, then whispering in her ear: “You, Shaimaa, are the coolest and smartest girl I have ever met.”

I also heard her last question: “When will the war in Yemen stop?!” she whispered.

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