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Yemen volunteers work to stem the tide of school dropouts.

Mukalla: Five months ago, Amen Assos pulled out his four children, including two daughters, from school because he could no longer afford to pay for their expenses.

"I'm a poor man and they always ask for money to pay for bus fares and snacks. So I told them to stay home." he told Gulf News.

"I know that was a wrong decision but I had no option," said Amen, who earned 3,000 Yemeni riyals ($13) a month working as a part-time driver in the southern port city of Mukalla. He lives in his brother's home and shares the food bill with him.

But his life took a turn when a group of volunteers offered incentives to send his children back to school. "When they heard about my predicament, the young volunteers who work under the umbrella of a programme called Insan (human being) came to my house and proposed to help me. They told me that they are ready to finance a project that will bring money, provided that I let my children study." Assos said.

"When I told them that I can work as a driver, they gave me $1,700. I borrowed $2,900 more and bought a bus. A month ago, I started transportation work and my children are now happy," he said.

The Insan programme funds a micro project aimed at helping families who pull their children from school because of poverty. After scrutiny, the family status is given a project worth from $1,700 to 2,200 in exchange for returning their children to school. The programme aims to bring down the high rate of poverty and employment in Yemen.

The pioneering organisers of the project, which is offered to families who have children aged 7-15, say they employ young people's abilities to serve the society. They helped avert many social problems that could come as a result of school drop outs.

Five volunteers visit after identifying a poor family. After assessing the family's financial needs and seeing what project will suit them, the project is offered. In the coastal areas of Hadramout, the earning members of the families are given boats. In the rural areas, the poor families are given shops, goats and clothes.

The programme is funded by the Awan Development Foundation (ADF), an NGO founded by the sons of Saudi businessman Salem Bin Mafoud, and carried out by hundreds of volunteers.

Dr. Adel Mohammad Bahmaid, the executive manager of ADF, told Gulf News that the programme has borne fruit since its inauguration in 2010.

"More than 1,220 volunteers managed to return 428 children to classrooms and provided their families with 180 projects to raise their standards of living."

Adel said Dr. Amr Khaled, an Islamic celebrity and founder of London-based Right Start Foundation International, was the brain behind the programme.

"He told us about the programme in 2009 and it took us one year to execute it. In 2010, Dr. Amr visited Mukalla and inaugurated the project. His foundation trained our people in volunteer work and we provided them with fund."

Akram Saleh Mubarak, a volunteer, said that his first experience as a volunteer had left positive impact. "Before taking part in the programme, I had no idea about volunteer work and I loved it when I discovered that I will be a vehicle in bringing a positive change in society."

Akram said that the year-long political deadlock in Yemen had an adverse impact on their work. "Many volunteers were afraid of visiting the families during the crisis."

The ADF signed an agreement in conjunction with MTN Charitable Foundation to pay 82 million Yemeni riyals ($381,000) to fund a new project to train 1,000 high school dropouts who were unable to join university because of their low scores. The project targets students who get less than 70 per cent in the provinces of Sana'a, Aden, Taiz, Hadramout, Hudiada and Lahj. For 12 months, the students will be given special courses on technology and English language, besides offering them soft loans to set up their micro projects.

Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Arab region,though it is ranked 154 on the Human Development Index (HDI), which places among medium human development countries. Ever since reunification of the country in 1990 its relative position on the HDI index has remained steady, with very slow progress towards attaining the MDG goals. At 3%, the country has one of the highest population growth rates globally, with the population expected to double in 23 years to around 40 million.

Poverty is widespread, with about 42% of the population living on less than US$ 2 per day and social development indicators, such as child malnutrition, maternal mortality, and education attainment remain poor. There are also large gender disparities, with significant gaps in women's access to economic, social and political opportunities.

The total number of primary and secondary school students in Yemen was 4.681.654 in 2010-2011, according to the education ministry figures.

Net enrolment rates for Basic Education(1-9 years age group) 69.8% (2008)

Net enrolment rates for Basic Education(1-6 years age group) 75.3% (2008)

Net enrolment rates for Basic Education(1-6 years age group) (male) 82.3% (2008)

Net enrolment rates for Basic Education(1-6 years age group) (female) 67.9% (2008)

Percentage of population below National Poverty Line 41.8% (2007)

-- Courtesy/source: United Nations Human Development Report (2010);

National Statisticals books (2010):

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:May 31, 2012
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