A smile from Yemen

Two sisters sit together and pose for a photo.
Hanadi and her sister.

While I was walking back home recently, I came across Hanadi, a 12-year-old girl, who can always be seen collecting plastic bottles in the neighbourhood.

Hanadi's ever-smiling face makes me feel that good is still there in our world. Her smile encouraged me to ask her what she was doing with plastic bottles. When I approached her and asked, Hanadi held the plastic bottles closer and asked me who I was.

I felt that she was frightened but I introduced myself and told her that I live in the adjacent neighbourhood. We soon became friends. Then I asked her where her house is and if I could meet her parents. She laughed for a while and told me they only have one room for her and her eight-member family to live in.

Hanadi took me to their house and I met her mother, who welcomed me with a wonderful smile after I introduced myself and the reason for my visit.

While I was sitting in the room with Hanadi and her mother, I noticed a huge pile of plastic bottles filling the room and some schoolbooks in one of the corners.

I was told that these plastic bottles are their source of livelihood. Hanadi's mother, along with Hanadi and her brothers, collects plastic bottles from the streets all day long and sell them for a small amount of money (about 700 YER/1 US dollar a day). Sometimes kind people offer them financial aid or food.

I asked about the schoolbooks in the room, and at that point, Hanadi got up excitedly and said, with a smiling face, that she had not done her homework yet.

She told me, with a slightly broken voice, that she could not go to school every day because of the hard living conditions that prevented her and her siblings from studying.

I was impressed by the fact that a 12-year-old girl could work, study, and strive for more with her small hands and beautiful smile. She fascinated me so I asked about her school. She told me, with a slightly broken voice, that she could not go to school every day because of the hard living conditions that prevented her and her siblings from studying.

But her voice changed again, as she told me that she would not give up. While absent from school, or when the school is closed for any reason, she studies alone and enjoys it. She told me she’d like to be a broadcaster in the future and would not give up this dream.

I was very impressed by her words and I asked her mother if Hanadi could be the hero of my story for a UNICEF activity to write stories from Yemen that I was part of. She agreed.

Hanadi is one of many children in Yemen who face challenges but are resolved to faces these challenges with a spirit full of determination to make their dreams true. She is one of nearly 4.5 million children in Yemen at risk of missing their education, according to a UNICEF report published in March 2018.

Hanadi is also one of so many children who recently joined the labour market to help their families earn some income. By 2013, the number of children involved in the labour market in Yemen reached 1.3 million.

My wish for Hanadi is to stay persistent and to pursue and achieve her dream to become a broadcaster. My other dream is for the war to come to an end because the war is hard and does not recognise Hanadi nor her dream.

16-year-old Manar from Sana’a is interested in writing stories and photography. She published her first short story in an official newspaper when she was nine years old. Manar is part of the UNICEF-supported “Power of 20” programme.