‘Please, sir, I want some more.’ [Archives:1998/11/Reportage]

March 16 1998

Hanan Obad
The famous Sanaa Home for Orphans was originally established as a school in 1922, and was converted to become a home for orphaned children in 1979. There are currently 1,241 children in the orphanage; all boys except for one girl, who is in fact adopted by the orphanage’s only matron. There is no orphanage for girls in Yemen, as putting a girl in the care of the state is a considered a source of shame for the girl and her relatives.

The youngest child in the Home is two years old, while, the oldest is at the sixth grade of secondary school – 18 years of age. There are now 330 orphan kids waiting to be admitted.
This girl’s story is particularly sad and strange, all at the same time. She is 14 years old, with both parents now deceased. When her mother died, the father got married, saying to the girl, ‘you’ll have a nice little brother.’ He died without begetting the awaited son. The girl’s stepmother, who got married shortly after the father’s death, sold their house and promised to take the girl to Taiz.
Come travel day, as the girl was about to get into the car, she was pushed away and left alone on the pavement. A benevolent person saw her and took her to the Sanaa orphanage. She is now under the personal care of the matron, whose been working for a year at the Home without pay.
To find out more about this establishment, I visited the place and met some of the officials there.
Mr. Abdulamlik Al-Wadi’i, the Director of the Sanaa Home of Orphans.
Q: How are children admitted to the orphanage?
A: Proofs of being an orphan must be submitted. A child may not be admitted to the orphanage unless there is a decision by a judge confirming that he is orphan. The orphanage also looks for those who are from the same village as the orphan to inquire about him.
Q: How many teachers and supervisors are there at the orphanage?
A: There are 36 teachers and 96 other employees performing various duties. We still need more staff with good qualifications to deal with the large number of children. Most of the staff have mid-level qualifications.
We have very few matrons and female teachers. Little children need more motherly care.
Q: What are children’s backgrounds, in general?
A: Family and social backgrounds vary from one orphan to another. For example, there are 4 parentless brothers, their mother died, their father suffers from a mental disorder and their uncle cannot support them. The classic case is that of a child whose mother died and his father married another woman who does not want the child at home. Other orphans are fatherless and the mothers alone cannot support them.
Q: What is the main psychological problem from which the children suffer?
A: Urinating in bed. When we asked the children about that, they gave several excuses such as there is not enough light in the corridors, frightening nightmares, or the bathrooms are not clean.
Q: From where does the orphanage get its financial resources?
A: The Ministry of Education provides a certain financial allocation. There is also the Council of the Home’s Fathers, which consists of a number of philanthropic men who help with the upkeep of the Home.
The home represents a huge family that has enormous demands that go beyond what is presently provided. That is why I’d like to use this opportunity to call on all generous individuals and organizations to extend a helping hand to the Sanaa Home for Orphans.
Donations can be given as money or in kind, which ever way that suits the donor. Monetary donations are placed in a fund supervised by an NGO as well as an official body, which closely monitors the amount of money coming in and how it is spent.
Public support, I’m sorry to say, is rather limited – probably because of lack of publicity. This often makes us resort to the higher authorities to get funds when the need arises. During the last three years, about 90% of the extra funds we received were from the presidency. Event that is still somewhat limited and not enough to cover the Home’s needs.
Q: What about the necessary books and stationery? Do you get enough supplies of these?
A: The Ministry of Education supplies us with free books, which must be later returned. They also provide the minimum of the pupils’ stationery requirements. More is needed.
Q: What extra-curricular activities do the children do?
A: We are trying in include all sorts of sport and cultural activities within a certain plan for at least one to two hours a week.
Q: Is there a library at the Home?
A: There is a library, but it lacks many books important for the children’s education. We have set aside certain periods of the children’s daily activities for free and guided reading sessions.
Q: Do you have TV sets?
A: There is one TV set in each of the four sleeping quarters, i.e., one set for every 400-500 children. These TVs are often out of order and we don’t have the necessary maintenance facilities. We don’t have a satellite dish to receive other TV channels, which could benefit the children with educational programs.
Q: How many beds are there any in each dormitory?
A: Each dormitory is large enough to accommodate 12 children, but, due to overcrowding, we have to put about 20 children in each dormitory. The new May 22nd building consists of several floors. The first and second floors have beds and the second has matresses for children to sleep on the floor.
Q: Who does the laundry?
A: The home owns 5 washing machines, which are a gift from Saudi Arabia. It cost us about YR 12,000 the last time we did maintenance work on them. These washing machines are used to wash the clothes of the little children. Older ones wash their own clothes by hand.
Q: Could you tell us a bit about the children’s general daily routine?
A: The children wake up after dawn. They have a well-planned schedule of studying and recreation activities until 10 pm when they go to bed. Children are also allowed an afternoon siesta.
Q: Are there good playing grounds available for the children?
A: There is actually a football field and a tennis and a volleyball court. There are also spaces for other sport activities such as table tennis, taekwondo, chess, etc.
Q: What type of food is given to the children?
A: The type and amounts of meals are specified by the General Directorate of Nutrition in the Ministry of Education. We hope that we’ll be granted more authority in deciding the meals given to the children. Due to a chronic lack of resources, the quality of food provided has come down. There needs to be more milk, fruits and vegetables.
The meals are cooked at the Central Kitchen of the Ministry of Education and sent daily to the Home. They usually send us a variety of meat, rice, mixed vegetables, bread, horsebeans, lentil soup, eggs, etc.
Q: Are the children given pocket money or any sort of allowance?
A: Up to the end of 1996, each child was given one riyal per day. We requested a higher allowance from the relevant body, but without success. We complained to the President citing that a low-income family would give its son an average of 10 riyals per day. The President immediately agreed to the suggestion, and the daily pocket money given to each student was raised to 10 riyals per day.
Q: Is the Home regularly renovated?
A: The Home has not been renovated since it was opened in 1979. The 26 September building, the oldest in the place, was painted once.
Q: Are the children well-provided with clothes, shoes, blankets, etc?
A: When Saudi Arabia built the 26 September wing in 1979, it also provided a large number of blankets which are used until this day. Other blankets were presented as gifts on the Home’s silver anniversary to children from other governorates. The blankets were left after the children went back.
The Ministry of Education provides two sets of clothing during the year for every student. Other basic personal necessities are provided by charities and magnanimous individuals. The Ministry of Education provides each child with a bar of soap every three months!
Q: Are the children taken on educational or recreational trips?
A: Long-distance trips are almost on halt now due to lack of decent transportation. Every Friday, however, a different group of children is taken on a short trip to a Sanaa suburb. Children who have relatives are allowed out on Friday to visit them.
Q: Let’s now move to health care. Are there any resident doctors, nurses or health workers?
A: There is a small clinic, a dental surgery, and a laboratory. A dentist and a dermatology specialist visit regularly. Few medicines are provided by the Ministry of Education, the rest of the Home’s medical needs are provided by the Council of the Home’s Fathers.
Q: Are there any training workshops?
A: There is only a carpentry workshop provided by the Canadian government. There are also a few computers, but there are no teachers to teach the children how to use them.
Q: Could you enumerate the Home’s other basic needs?
A: Well, there are many:
– electric generator and repairing the electrical network,
– medicines and medical supplies,
– cupboards,
– carpets,
– a barber,
– solar energy supply for the internal bathrooms,
– bathrooms from the Home’s mosque,
– stationery and other school supplies,
– funds for extra-curricular activities and audio-visual equipment,
– support for educational and recreational trips,
– prizes for various science and culture competitions,
– facilities for vocational and technical training,
– more varied and nutritional food,
– and, most important of all, matrons and female teachers.
Other administrators and teachers also said a few words about the situation at the Sanaa Home for Orphans.
Mr. Ali Al-Aghbari, the Deputy Director, said:
“Every year, the number of children increase, and so does those who run away. Many children feel lonely, miss the family atmosphere, and cannot acclimatize with the rest of the children.”
Mr. Faysal Mustafa Abdulraheem, a teacher of Arabic, said:
“Teaching at the Home is rather difficult. You have to take extra care, considering the children’s delicate social and psychological conditions.”
Mr. Naji Al-Riyashi, sports instructor, said:
“There is a marked lack of sport facilities. Fields and play grounds are in disrepair. A lot of funds are needed.”
Abdullah Dahan Al-Jamra, 11, said:
Only children who misbehave are punished by hitting them on the hand.”
Abdullah Al-Ahjari, 15, said:
“Cleaning the dormitory is done by the children, in turn.”