AMIDEAST – Yemen: New Horizons in the Business [Archives:1998/41/Interview]

October 12 1998

Amideast is an organization with which many Yemenis who studied in the USA are familiar with. The non-profit educational organization has been managing arrangements for Yemenis studying on scholarships.
Now Amideast has greatly expanded its scope of business.

To discuss the new role of this important organization, Mr. Aziz Al-Haddi, Country Director for Amideast in Yemen since 1993, spoke to Yemen Times. Aziz was born in the USA in 1961 to Yemeni parents, and came to Yemen in the late 1980s to work for a USAID project. In 1990, he joined Amideast. 
Amideast is an organization with which many Yemenis who studied in the USA are familiar with. The non-profit educational organization has been managing arrangements for Yemenis studying on scholarships.
Q: What is the role of Amideast in Yemen?
A: Our role is to partner with Yemeni institutions and sponsor training and education to provide administrative, logistical and technical support. The overall ambition of Amideast is to promote cooperation and understanding between Americans and the people of the Middle East and North Africa through education, training and information programs.
Q: Does that mean you work with the Ministry of Education?
A: We have a number of programs that we implement with the Ministry of Education. Since the early 1990s, we worked together to revise the teacher training system.
Before Unification, in the northern part of Yemen, the ministry had a nine-plus-three basic education system. Beyond that basic education, people who studied for three years become teachers. In the southern part of the country, the system was eight-plus-four years.
Now, we have revised the system to be a twelve-plus-two. So far about 20,000 to 30,000 teachers have benefited from this program.
Also, we partner the Consortium for International Development, which is a group of US universities. In conjunction with the Ministry of Education, we developed the community college system. Two model community colleges were established – one in each of Sanaa and in Aden. The project is funded by the World Bank.
We are now in the second year of the program. We have people from the USA who work with Yemeni counterparts to establish this system. We are about to send a hundred Yemeni scholars to the USA to help form the future structures of these colleges. We hope this program will expand to better serve and define the needs of the market in Yemen.
Q: In what other sectors are you involved?
A: In the field of training, we have agreements with 8 or 9 different agencies in Yemen, helping them develop more programs. We work in various sectors – justice, agriculture, public administration and civil service, health, etc. We seek to determine needs in order to better manage resources.
Q: Amideast also works with the media?
A: In the field of information, our primary program is the Arab Heritage Program. It aims to promote understanding and cooperation between the USA and the Arab World.
Through this, Amideast aims to develop and obtain materials on the history and culture of the Arab world and Islam, which we then convey that to the American people. We give primary and intermediate level schools in the US information which accurately conveys Middle Eastern history. This will help promote understanding and deal with some misconceptions that affect relations. Here in Yemen, we seek to some support for the Arab heritage.
Q: Do you do all that from your Sanaa Office? How large is your staff?
A: We have 25 staff members in Sanaa. Recently, we established a new center in Aden, which is already drawing a lot of development activities. We established it at the end of May as part of the community colleges’ project. Also, we have a number of scholarship programs in the Middle East region that we administer. We also have 30 people working on different projects in 6 different provinces in Yemen.
Q: Can you tell us the history of Amideast, and in Yemen?
A: Before changing its name to Amideast, the organization was called the American Funds of the Middle East. In 1951, when it was established, we had the first Yemeni participant, Dr. Rashid Abdu, a surgeon. He went first to Beirut with sponsorship from the US. He spent sometime working in Yemen and now he is a professor at a US medical school.
Many Yemenis have been helped by Amideast through the Fulbright program.
Q: What kind of difficulties do you face in your work?
A: There are a couple of problems that we face. One has to do with funding. At times, we have difficulty in ensuring continual funding for our projects.
Another problem is the lack of coordination between development agencies and Yemeni government agencies. That is why the recent decision of the ministers of Planning, Education and Labor to expand cooperation is a good sign.
I think that organizations like the World Bank and other funding agencies like the Dutch government are also seeing the need for better coordination. This might develop into some type of development council.
Q: Do you assist any Yemeni NGOs?
A: Yes, we try to involve as many NGOs in our activities and projects as possible. As an NGO ourselves, we know that increasing support for NGOs leads to more balanced development in society. It is true that our funding is limited, but we expect it to grow.
Q: Can a Yemeni scholar apply directly for a scholarship, or does he have to do it through an official organization?
A: Now there is a shift in how this is done. In the past it was based on nominations by official bodies. Now that is beginning to change. The Ministry of Planning agreed that all scholarships should be granted through competition, something we have been pushing for years. So this year, scholarships sponsored by various governments and institutions were all competition-based.
We established 5 satellite offices, in addition to the permanent offices in Sanaa and Aden. We invite applications through advertisements on television, radio and newspapers to give everybody a chance to apply. That means we are now drawing on a larger pool of directly competing individuals.
We want this competition-based system to continue because we found a lot of good people this way. I’m very happy that the Yemeni government has supported this concept.
Q: The fees you charge are too high, compared to the average income in this country. Are you going to lower these fees?
A: We are now trying to put more emphasis on institutions (to cover the costs) as opposed to individuals. We do that for two reasons. One is to lower the burden fees-wise.
We are also trying to develop funding sources. One thing we are going to do is to begin offering scholarships for English language training. I think YALI in conjunction with the US Embassy are now offering scholarships to Yemeni civil servants. In Aden, we are going to have private scholarships for people who want to study English. We also plan to bring some academic programs to Yemen to allow more people to study.
Q: What new programs do you envisage?
A: One program that we are going to do is to train teachers to teach English as a foreign language. We are going to try to do this in conjunction with the universities of Hadhramaut, Aden, Sanaa and also some private universities. We can do it at certificate, postgraduate, and master’s level.
We are trying to encourage more people, the private sector, and international organizations to help us fund more education programs. This way we hope to increase the number of participants. I would like to mention here our involvement with the Canadian Occidental scholarships for Yemenis to study in Canada.
The US government was successful in obtaining funds amounting to $1,000,000 to provide training in 4 sectors. We are very happy to see the return of US support for Yemen. In my opinion, the most successful support of the US government to Yemen in the 1980s was by provided education and training for over 115 Yemeni scholars, who returned to serve Yemen. We see them serving their country in every sector.
Q: What future programs do you have in mind?
A: One of our programs seeks to help maximize the return on investment in education and training. It is going to link training sponsors, providers and users. We want to develop joint programs and exchange information to be able to focus on the needs of society. We are planning to introduce this program in early 1999.