Friends of Hadhramaut: People helping People [Archives:2000/45/Culture]

November 6 2000

By Karen Dabrowska
Hadhramaut. Death has come. Yemens largest governorate which extends from the coast of the Arabian sea to the southern deserts of ar-Ruba al-Khali, has an ominous sounding name. Its not a region where foreigners were always made welcome. Despite his total command of Arabic it took Leo Hirsch more than six months to soothe the mistrust of the Bedouin and pursue the rulers of the coastal region to let him into Wadi Hadhramaut, where he stayed for 38 days during the winter of 1892 using the town of Shibam as his base for exploring the interior.
He was followed by Hans Helfritz, whose visits to the Arabian peninsula in 1932 -33 had a scholarly purpose. He recorded folk music and was also a talented travel writer able to turn his daring journeys into exciting books with titles such as Chicago of the Desert and Land without Shade.
Today it is a fascinating place for tourists attracted by Seiyun one of the most remarkable historical towns of Wadi Hadhramaut, the sultans palace and the mosque of Umar in Mukalla the capital of the governorate, the abundance of archaeological sites dating back to the 9th century BC and Al-Hajjarayn, a remarkable stone village atop a rocky slope of Wadi Dawan.
But for Friends of Hadhramaut, a trust registered with the Charity Commission of England and Wales the region has provided an ideal opportunity to promote community-based projects and self-help developments using local resources and indigenous materials as far as possible.
The charity was set up in 1996, following a visit to the area by Sultana Al-Quaiti and Brian Fyfield-Shayler, as part of an expedition organized by the British Yemeni Society.
Sultana Al-Qaaiti is the wife of HH the Sultan Ghalib Al-Quaiti. He became ruler of the Quaiti State in Hadhramaut when he was 18 years old on the death of his father in 1966. A year later he attended a UN conference in Geneva to discuss the future of the area after Britains impending withdrawal from Aden and the protectorates, but on his return was prevented from landing by revolutionary forces. Since then he has lived largely in the UK (where he gained degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge universities) and in Saudi Arabia, becoming a great authority on aspects of Arabian history. In 1996, after discussions with the Yemen government, he travelled to Mukalla and to wadi Hadhramaut where he was given a rapturous welcome by the inhabitants. Sultan Ghalib and Sultana Al-Quiaitis son Saleh serves as Chairman of Friends of Hadhramaut: he completed his officer training at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst and is now studying law at Buckingham University.
Brian Fyfield-Shayler, who was teaching English in Saudi Arabia when he first met Sultan Ghalib in 1967, has had a long association with the Middle East. He returned to the UK in 1977. Now retired he lives in Tavistock, Devon, and devotes most of his time to the work of the Trust.
The trustees first met in January in 1997 in London. The charitys 33 initial supporters have now grown to nearly 400.
The first patron was the late Doreen Ingrams, whose friendship with the region goes back to 1934 when she accompanied her husband, Harold Ingrams, the first British Resident Adviser. They were the first Europeans to make their home in Hadhramaut.
Doreen played an important part in all aspects of her husbands work by joining discussions with the men as well as visiting the harems and learning about the lives and conditions of women, many of whom were wanting medical help and education for themselves and their children. She was actively involved in starting a school for girls in Mukalla and a society where women could meet, sew or discuss hygiene and
health problems. It was Sultan Saleh, grandfather of Sultan Ghalib, who encouraged and facilitated Doreen Ingrams work.
Doreen Ingrams played a key role in starting the first bedouin girls schools in 1943 along with a famine hospital and convalescent home. With her husband she helped organize a Childrens Village for the children of bedouin agricultural laborers who had been orphaned or made homeless because of famine. She was also involved in the establishment of the Al-Noor Institute for the Blind in Mukalla.
Friends of Hadhramaut started its work by providing support for this institute, which trains about 50 people. In the past the centre was famous throughout Yemen for its cane products and had a distributor in the market in Aden, the most important sea port and economic capital of the country. The Friends are hoping to revive this trade and provide the trainees with a much needed income. The centers thriving book-bindery, well known during the 1960s and 70s, could also be revived with the help of sponsors
as could its music instruction. Bind students used to play at weddings and social functions and the Friends are keen to help musically-gifted students polish their skills.
Dr Nizar Ghanem, a distinguished musician and oud-player, who runs the Health & Culture Centre, a charity clinic and arts school in Sanaa has offered to assist.
Assisting the Al-Noor Institute has been one of the charitys most important activities. The construction of three dormitory rooms and two bathrooms, which will allow the centre to accept 21 new blind trainees as boarders, is the latest project to modernize the institute. A donation from Jehan Rejab of the New English School in Hawalli, Kuwait has paid for the building of a cafeteria.
A family from Al-Adaan in Wadi Hadhramaut is being given some financial assistance on a monthly basis, while the possibility of sending three blind sisters, Sabah, Safiyya and Lubnan Ba-amer overseas for corneal transplants is being investigated.
Other activities include assisting forty women to embroider and sew using electric machines. The women are at present using a room in the Al-Noor Institute but are in urgent need of furniture. Their thriving cottage industry produces garments which are sold in the local market but they are in need of their own workshop which could be constructed on a small piece of land en route to Riyan airport outside Mukalla.
A visit to hospitals in Al-Qatn, Seiyun, Shibam and Mukalla by the Friends local co-ordinator revealed little equipment and inadequate regular supplies. Through the charitys efforts, redundant but still serviceable equipment has been obtained for Hadhramaut from the Churchill Clinic, the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital and the South Kent Hospitals Trust.
Support for the charity has come from a variety of diverse organizations. Donations have been made by the Seven Pillars of Wisdom Trust and by Archive Editions Ltd of Farnham Common, publishers of historical documents on the Middle East, including the 16-volume Records of Yemen 1798-1960 co-edited by Doreen Ingrams and her daughter Leila. A recent donation from the Canning Trust enabled the purchase of
American-made Braille equipment including five Perkins Braille typewriters.
Sir Andrew Green, the British ambassador in Saudi Arabia and his wife Lady Jane Green, hosted a reception at their residence in Riyadh for around 90 invited guests, diplomats, expatriates and friends to hear an illustrated talk about a visit to Hadhramaut given by the charitys trustee and treasurer, Sultana Al-Quaiti.
Support from artists has been forthcoming, notably from Caroline Lees of
Shropshire, who has made several painting trips to Hadhramaut and exhibited her work in the royal Academy (Summer Exhibition), the Mathaf Gallery and other prestigious venues. Julium Mein IV, president of the prestigious Austrian coffee and tea importers, known for the King Hadhramaut brand roasted by their company, has shipped two consignments of this top quality brand to London to aid the charitys fund-raising efforts.
Fund raising activities included car boot sales, coffee mornings and raffles with prizes such as a water colour of the green-domed tomb of Shaikha Sultana (1378 – 1443) and a wooden model of a Hadhrami castle by art students at Al-Qatn Secondary School. In 1977 the charity organized a small display at the World Banks Micro-Credit Summit in Washington.
More recently, Brian Fyfield-Shayler has set up an entirely separate Al-Afrar fund, to help the families and dependents of the now deceased Sultans of Qishn and Socotra, who formerly ruled Al-Mahra, the least populated governorate with only 110,000 inhabitants most of whom are bedouins and Socotra Yemens largest island, 350km off southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, almost 100- km from Aden.
The generosity of the Friends supporters has exceeded all expectations. The initial list of projects is now on the way to be accomplished.
We are now preparing a much more extensive list, Mr Fyfield-Shayler said. In Hadhramaut there is virtually unlimited scope to help people to help themselves. I have never met more industrious, enterprising individuals and their response to what we are trying to do is most gratifying.