Students vs. Yemeni electrical outages [Archives:2006/956/Reportage]

June 19 2006

By: Fatima Al-Ajel
[email protected]

One sure-fire way of disappointing students are electricity cuts during final exam days, which runs counter to government claims of caring for youths.

While both school and university students are preparing for final exams, Yemen's electricity switches off twice or more a day, especially in the evening. Switching off the electricity has become a problem which students take into account when planning for exams.

“I wonder why electricity cuts mostly occur during our final exam days. This has become so boring that I don't care about my studies. Let the government exercise a policy of 'depriving us from electricity on exam days' a thousand times,” 12th-grader Emad Abdu said, “I know full well that nothing works in our country, although the government spends billions of riyals on the electricity sector.”

By and large, more than half a million students in grades 9 through 12 suffer terribly due to recurring nightly electricity outages during exam days. Therefore, they must find other means of lighting. The majority resort to candles because they can't afford other lighting means, while those with high-ranking fathers in the state don't fear electrical outages because they have better alternatives.

Disappointed students

Many students find it very disappointing when the electricity suddenly goes off at night without being cautioned beforehand because, as usual, such students find it appropriate to study at night.

High school student Jamal Mohammed spends hours studying, especially during final exam days. “The best time to study is in the evening until the fajr prayer time, so I face the problem of the electricity switching off,” he explained, “I must light candles one or two hours every day otherwise, I'll lose that time without studying”

Emani Ali Taher pointed out that she is busy all day, beginning when she goes to school in the morning. She also must work at home and help her mother “I don't find time to study except at night. I'm stressed all evening while I'm studying because the whole time I'm preoccupied about when the electricity will go off. So, I must finish my studying earlier,” she said.

Ninth-grader Abdulrahman Al-Harazi prefers to sleep rather than study by candlelight because, for one thing, he finds it discouraging to read by the faint light of candles. “I like to study hard. As I begin reading a specific subject, my interest grows and I read without getting bored. But when the lights suddenly go off, I throw the book at the wall and immediately go to bed. This is very disappointing.”

Students Abdulsalam Nasser, Tariq Aziz and Emad Abdallah have final exams for primary school and say, “We always study together in a house, but when the electricity goes off, we prefer to go to the mosque and study there rather than studying in the dark. We can't study by candlelight. If we don't go to the mosque, we'll spend the time talking or sleeping.”

University student Mohammed Ahmed says, “I live in Bani-Hashash village, so I study and prepare for exams by candlelight anyway. When I begin studying, I put the candles beside me and wait for the moment of switching off. I've done this for years.”

According to secondary school student Amat Albari Al-Amdi, for the past year, “Electricity switching off was one of the difficulties I faced during exams. I couldn't organize my time, however, my family tried to make a good atmosphere for me, especially my sisters. They didn't let me work at home, so I spent time studying in the morning and spent the evening for revision. I didn't care if the electricity went off or not. I hope students this year don't face the same problem.”

Mutual worries

For the most part, parents worry about their children during exam days, trying their best to provide an appropriate atmosphere for their children before and during exams.

“I must buy dozens of candles for my three sons who now are taking their exams. I really want to provide them with a better alternative, but because I am poor, I can buy only candles. I don't want them to feel disappointed. Every night I pray to God that the electricity will continue until dawn,” said 45-year-old Sana'a resident Mohammed Saleh Al-Ba'dani.

Haj Mohammed Nasser, who has two sons preparing for final exams, expressed, “I must buy candles every day during the exam period. I want someone to answer my questions about why the Ministry of Electricity deals with our students like this and why they switch off the electricity more during exam time rather than at other times?”

Aden mother and teacher Nour Haza`a narrated her suffering during exam days, saying, “When the electricity goes off, my daughter goes to sleep until it comes on, then she continues studying until morning. She awakens too tired and sometimes forgets the information she studied all night. I live under stress until she finishes her exams.”

Many accidents also occur as a result of the electricity switching off. Haj Ahmad Nasser recalled, “In the past year, one of my neighbors burned his house while he was studying by candlelight. He went to sleep and a fire from the candles spread around the room until the family awoke and found the house on fire.”

Government ignorance

Many students wonder why electrical cuts increase during final exams, whereas the power never goes off on national holidays. The 16th anniversary of Unification Day is a case in point. Citizens complained that the electricity was not cut off at that time because the government spent millions of riyals to provide lighting for that occasion.

“When in need, the government uses school students on national holidays to participate in shows and parades. But during final exams, scarcely are students given full attention, as evidenced by the intentional electricity cuts at night,” teacher Nasser Al-Jaili commented.

The Ministry of Electricity attributes electricity outages to generator power deficits and excessive pressure in the evenings, namely from 5 to 10 p.m. The ministry's public relations manager Sharaf Al-Huraibi noted that it's important to alleviate electricity generation via cuts for a specific period of time not exceeding one hour. “Most electrical appliances are switched on at night, as opposed to morning. Efforts are being made, but we need time to find solutions to this problem,” he added.

Some students wish final exams would coincide with national holidays. “I notice that the electricity never goes off on national holidays. Perhaps they do this to allow spectators to watch the parades and shows displayed for such occasions. What we benefit is a mere enjoyment, which vanishes at the end of such occasions,” said Mokhtar Faisal from Jamal Abdul Nasser School in Sana'a.

WITA: Yemen's first women's IT association

Last month, SOUL announced the launch of the Women in Technology Association (WITA), which is the first of its kind in Yemen. In an exclusive interview with Women in Technology (WIT) program manager, Lina Al-Eryani, she gives an overall view of WITA.

Interviewed by: Mohammed


What is WITA and how did the idea come about?

WITA is the first Yemeni women's IT (Information Technology) association and its establishment came within the framework of the Women in Technology (WIT) program to ensure the program's sustainability and expand its impact to a larger group of women.

What are WITA's goals?

One of WITA's main aims is to create a database for female computer science graduates, including WIT participants, which will provide women better access to the labor market in a culturally appropriate way. The database will be available to private businesses, government agencies and academic institutes, which will facilitate recruitment of IT graduates and improve access to the labor market, especially for women specialized in this field.

Why is WITA confined to Sana'a city and not in other governorates?

Because the WIT program has begun only in Sana'a; accordingly, WITA initially has been established in Sana'a. However, we hope that through its members' efforts and commitment, it will expand to other governorates in the near future.

Is WITA planned for the long run or will it be only for a specific time period?

The WIT program cycle is until the end of March 2007. During this period, as the agency implementing the WIT program, SOUL will assist WITA to stand on its own by providing an officer for WITA meetings, securing official recognition for the association and training administrative members, once they're elected, in grant proposal writing and management issues.

How many women have joined WITA so far and on what basis do you select them?

Because WITA initially is targeting all WIT program participants, the number of women in the general assemblage will be around 138, the same number who attended WITA's first meeting. We're confident that the second meeting, which officially will launch WITA and elect administrative members, will attract more women interested in joining the association.

Why do you focus on IT?

Yemen's total population is 19.4 million, with women representing 51 percent. However, their participation in the paid labor force is only 24 percent and their participation in the IT field is even lower, with women accounting for only 15 percent of professional and technical jobs, according to the Women's National Committee's 2004 Human Development Report.

Impediments to women's education in the IT field are exacerbated by lack of access due to the high price of training, lack of women-only classes and low quality? of training. Thus, by providing free training with high quality? in a women-only environment, we hope to contribute to building women's IT skills, which is the most sought-after skill on the labor market, both by private and public sectors, which ultimately will improve women's access to the labor market.

Are there any other NGOs or establishments for IT for men and/or women or are you the sole association concerned with IT in Yemen?

There are no other IT associations in Yemen, either for men or women; thus, WITA is Yemen's first IT association in general.

How widespread is computer illiteracy in Yemen?

Even though there are no statistics on computer illiteracy among men or women, the 2004 Women's National Committee Human Development Report states that only 15 percent of women work in the IT field. Of course, this can be attributed to several other reasons, especially since women's participation in the labor market in general is only 24.6 percent, according to the same report. But since women still lack access to education in general and the literacy rate among women stands at 28.5 percent, we can deduce that computer illiteracy among women is very high, although no statistics are available in this regard.

How do you receive funding and support for WITA?

During the establishment phase, WITA will be supported by WIT technology, which is implemented by SOUL for the Development of Women and Children. Following the WIT program's end, we hope WITA already will be established and its member trained and thus able to seek funding by themselves to be independent.

What are your future plans for WITA?

Based on outcomes from WITA's first meeting, the selected preparatory committee, consisting of seven members elected by all members attending the first meeting, will establish WITA's plans and activities.