Ieman Hashem Anqad: “Yemeni society is not considerate enough towards the handicapped.” [Archives:1998/51/Interview]

December 21 1998

Caring for the handicapped in Yemen is still subject to private initiative. Very little support, if any, is provided by the government. This demanding task is often left in the hands of a few determined and dedicated individuals, who persevere in their efforts to help those unfortunate enough to be disabled in a society unable to cope.
Miss Ieman Hashem Anqad is one such caring and considerate person. She is the Director of the Ieman Institute for Special Education and Speech Therapy and Chairperson of the Society for the Friends of the Mentally Handicapped.
Although born into quite a conservative Yemeni family, Ieman was not only able to finish her studies, obtaining a BA and MA in psychology from Jordan, but also open a successful educational institute for handicapped children.
Ismail Al-Ghabiry of Yemen Times talked to Miss Anqad about various issues concerning the handicapped in particular and women in general.
He filed the following interview.
Q: Could you briefly tell us about the Ieman Institute?
A: The beginning was in 1992 when I started working at a psychiatric care home for women. Then I did not have much knowledge about handicapped children. The experience I gained at that home enabled me to be more in tune to the needs of handicapped girls.
Handicapped girls in Yemen suffer a lot, along with their families. Society in general is just not considerate enough. The idea to open an institute for girls with special needs came to me when I came across the tragedy of an 11-year-old mentally handicapped girl. She was raped. Her family could barely cope with this catastrophe. I was with them, helping their daughter overcome her predicament.
I believe the Ieman Institute to be my small contribution towards helping mentally handicapped children and making society more aware of their needs. I aim to make the families of handicapped children understand that their sons and daughters can be trained to become active members of society.
Q: What sort of problems did you face opening the Ieman Institute?
A: I first talked to the director of the psychiatric care home where I worked. My idea was completely rejected. Many people thought that it was a useless exercise trying to teach mentally handicapped people. I was often told that it is OK to train physically handicapped people, by the mentally incapacitated were hopeless cases.
My farther also rejected my proposal as a phase I’m passing through which I’ll soon outgrow. He advised to do something else. I persisted. My mother and elder brother were totally against it. My brother in particular resented my going out to work and driving a car.
The only solution open for me then was to sell my gold jewelry to raise some of the required funds. I borrowed the rest.
Q: When was the Ieman Institute first opened?
A: It was opened in a small building on November 28, 1992 – my birthday. Very shortly afterwards, people started brining in their handicapped children. On January 1, 1993, I moved to a larger building due to the increase in children’s number at the Institute. Parents could not contain their happiness at seeing their children going to school everyday carrying their bags and books. I had to have more rooms built to care of the increasing number of students.
Q: How many students are their now and what departments does the Institute consist of?
A: There are 300 students, male and female, taught by 55 teachers in 32 classrooms.
The Ieman Institute caters for children with all levels of mental disability. Moreover, we have a special department for children with cerebral palsy, the only one of its kind in Yemen. Special physiotherapy is provided in this section.
Also, we take care of the deaf and dumb and those with speech impediments.
Q: I understand that there is a reason for your refraining from marriage. What is it?
A: Yemeni society is still backward. Not many men would agree to their wives going out to work. I don’t think that I’ll find a man who is ready to understand the nature of my work and my dedication to it.
I now have a little handicapped boy living at home with me. He was rejected by his family in the village. Do you think any husband can put up with a strange little boy living in his house? I’m not the least sorry for not getting married. I find a lot of happiness taking care of these children. The progress some of them make is extraordinary. Upon first arriving here, one mentally disturbed boy tried to stab a girls with watchman’s jambia. He has now recovered and does simple tasks around the place. Another handicapped boy now operates a computer.
Q: How do you see the status of Yemeni women now?
A: From a psychologist’s point of view, about 99% of mental problems among women in Yemen are caused by spousal violence and parental repression. Women are still, to a large extent, regarded as inferior by Yemeni society. They are second-class citizens.
When I’m driving , for example, men drivers would either want to break into my lane, smash into my car, or do other childish behavior. At petrol stations, men often jump the queue if a woman is ahead of them.
I once heard a particular MP boasting that he and some of his colleagues withdrew from a parliamentary sessions just because it was headed by a woman MP!
Q: How is the Ieman Institute funded?
A: Our funds largely come from the fees paid by parents. However, not all people pay the same amount. Less well-off people sometimes pay nominal fees. Children from poor families are taught free of charge. Free clothes and medical care are also provided. Fees only amount to about YR 400,000 a month; while, the Institute’s monthly expenditure is around YR 600,000.
Some of our donors include the German institute DED, the Fund for Social Development and the Society of American Women in Sanaa.
Q: Does the Ministry of Social Affairs assist in any way?
A: The sole part played by Ministry of Social Affairs includes sending out inspectors to look into our work. Very little financial aid is provided by government agencies. We used to get YR 240,000 a year from the Ministry, now we only receive half of that amount. The funds we receive are barely enough for the day-to-day running of the Institute.
Q: Does the Ministry cooperate facilitate your work?
A: Government agencies are not quite cooperative, I’m sorry to say. The Ieman Institute is almost totally ignored, as far as training courses and seminars are concerned, say. Lack of services is a wholly different matter.
Q: The word Ieman – (religious) faith in Arabic – has some political connotations. Is the Ieman Institute associated with particular political movements?
A: Ieman means faith in the potential ability of handicapped people. It also means having the courage to help these people integrate within society. Thirdly, it indicates a limitless faith in handicapped people as human beings like the rest of us, with the same rights and responsibilities.
Ieman never means any political affiliations, as some people may wrongly think. Anyway, the Institute had different name when it was first opened – the Enchanted World Institute. I believe that the world of handicapped people is a magical one, many people thought the name quite odd. So I had to change it to Ieman – my first name.