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Yemen: The strength to save my family

15 Jul 20
This article is more than one year old

Yemen: The strength to save my family

Inside the Taiz Houban Mother & Child Hospital Caption
Inside the Taiz Houban Mother & Child Hospital


Health educator

Health educator Zainab shares her deeply personal story of heartbreak and determination amid Yemen's brutal civil war

I lived in three houses in three different locations, moving between them because of the rising cost of rent. I used to live in Sala area in Taiz, where the conflict is still active.

I’ve now been working with MSF for three years. My work has helped me on a personal level; it has helped my family, as I support them financially; and it has helped the people who are most in need. My work here is a blessing from God.

My role is as a health educator, raising awareness among pregnant women and new mothers about hygiene and health issues, about diseases and how to prevent them, and also about MSF and its work.

Finding a special place

Prior to the war, my life in Taiz was good and stable. I could study. After my mother died, life became more difficult, but I had my father for support.

However, the hardships grew once war broke out; no salaries were paid to employees and the economic situation of most Yemenis got worse.

Once I had finished my studies, I looked for a job so that I could support my family through these difficult times. I’m the eldest of my siblings and feel responsible for them.

I had heard about MSF and this hospital – the name MSF was synonymous with pregnant women. So, when they said they needed health educators, I applied immediately.

When I entered the hospital that first day, I felt I was entering a special place, that I was part of the MSF I saw on TV. To me, that meant the world.

An infant is treated at the Mother & Child hospital Caption
An infant is treated at the Mother & Child hospital

That day…

I’ve been living here ever since they closed the roads. For two years I couldn’t reach the city to see my family or even send money to support my siblings. My sister was still at university and my other sister would soon follow her, while my younger siblings required care and attention.

Two years ago, I was celebrating the anniversary of the Mother and Child Hospital here in Houban with my MSF colleagues – it was a day of pure joy. When I returned home, I received a call that my father had died. He was killed in a road accident involving a security patrol vehicle.

I couldn’t believe it. I knew my father was strong, he could defy anything, and the thought of him gone was unbearable.

My father’s body was refrigerated. When I arrived at the morgue I shouted frantically:

“Get him out – he’ll be cold, he’ll feel the cold.”

Everyone thought I’d lost my mind. But I’d lost my support and my backbone. I was filled with a sense of helplessness.

“Why did he leave? It’s the conflict’s fault,” I thought.

I sank into depression. It took me a while to recover from the trauma of his death. What helped me through that very tough time was the tremendous emotional support I received from my colleagues and my manager.


It was time for me to travel home. I didn’t care that the roads were closed. After losing my father, nothing seemed to matter. Seeing my family and being with them at this time was the only thought I had.

Finally, I managed to visit my home, but it was too late.

The situation was desperate. Death was on everyone’s mind. So, I gathered my siblings, grabbed some of our belongings, locked our house and brought my family here, to live with me. 

“None of this would have been possible”

Being displaced, losing your loved ones, abandoning your home, leaving behind your possessions and your childhood memories – all of this took a massive toll on me.

What gives me consolation is that my family is now safe, and I have employment with MSF.

This job has allowed me to fund my sister’s university education – she’s studying to become a doctor. I’ve also supported my other sister’s education – she’s planning to become a pharmacist. My other siblings are all still at school.

Without this job, none of this would have been possible. This hospital has saved many lives, my family’s and mine included.

Zainab pauses for a photograph at work in Taiz Houban Caption
Zainab pauses for a photograph at work in Taiz Houban

Being a breadwinner and a woman

There have been so many challenges. Being away from my family was awful – I didn’t choose the distance, but I had to stay here to earn enough to support them. I would never have left them if things in our area had been going well.

I was tense and anxious most of the time. Whenever I heard shelling or gunfire in our area, I called my family immediately. If I couldn’t get through, I was taken over by dark thoughts.

I often had nightmares:

“My father might get killed, my brother might get taken from the house, my sisters might be kidnapped.”

You become trapped in a psychological vortex.

The challenges didn’t stop there…

 “You are a woman. Your place is at home…”

“Your father died so you should return to the village…”

“Go home and we will support you financially. There’s no need for universities, no need to live in the city anymore…”

That’s what I kept hearing from relatives and acquaintances. It can be hard for society to fathom that a woman can be responsible for an entire family. But I challenged their notions: I refused to listen and I continued working.

I was able to prove to them, and to everyone else, that I could handle this responsibility.

Peace and stability

I hope to continue working with MSF for years to come, and I hope that MSF never leaves this place. There are so many vulnerable people dependent on the healthcare provided here and so many staff who depend on the hospital for their livelihoods.

I hope I can support all my siblings through their education. I hope to see them living in comfort and safety.

Peace and stability are all we need.

Support MSF in Yemen

The increasingly brutal conflict in Yemen is leading more women to die from childbirth complications and a devastating number of children aren’t making it to their first birthday. Healthcare is severely limited across the country.

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) provides life-saving medical care in hospitals across Yemen.