What can a Yemeni NGO do? [Archives:2007/1114/Culture]

December 24 2007

Hamed Thabet
The Health and Culture Center (HCC) is a local non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Sana'a which aims to serve deprived people and help improve their skills. It also provides free psychotherapy for patients. Hamed Thabet visited the center and interviewed patients who frequently visit the center, as well as officials and staff.

Many psychological problems in Yemen are between couples. According to Muhammed Amer, a psychologist at the HCC, “About 70% of the psychological patients who come to the HCC are married, especially the women. Their problems include: sexual problems, dealing with their husbands and also problems related to misunderstanding between couples.”

Amer noted that some patients have mental illnesses, such as a college graduate girl who had a phobia of germs, and washed herself for more than 6 hours daily. Problems such as this are very difficult to be cured. However, he confirmed, “consultation is free, but medicine has to be bought.”

In Yemen there is a common belief that those who go to a psychologist are mentally ill. But people are becoming aware that these clinics exist to serve people. Amer expressed that many patients who came to the clinic were cured, which caused the public to learn the advantages that such clinics bring to people. There is even a hot line for people who are too shy to come in person to talk about their problems.

Besides the health sector, there is a special place in the center for music instruction. Ali Ghazi, the manager of the music sector, explained that in addition to Yemenis who come to the center to learn music, foreigners come in order to learn Yemeni music, especially the 'ud (lute) and keyboard.

Rowidah Reyath and her sister Rowinah, Yemeni female singers with 4 years experience in singing, had their talent discovered while at the center learning music. Rowidah said, “Learning music is very important; I wish to play music in order to be an accomplished singer. From the very beginning I chose this center to learn, as Nazar Ghanem offered us free lessons.”

They added, “We recommend that any girl who is talented in singing or music not suppress it, but face all obstacles that come her way fearlessly. It is a fact that the Yemeni community doesn't allow its girls to go out or to sing. From the beginning we faced many difficulties from the community before we became a singer, but we continued and our family supported us, especially our mother.” They added, “The main problem in Yemen is that the mass media pays no attention to such talents and talented citizens, as there are many singers here but no one knows or hears about them. There must be some improvement in this section.”

Aesha Yaya, in charge of the women's gym at the center, explained that facilities for women's fitness includes exercise equipment and guided aerobic exercises. The program runs daily from 4 – 6 pm and is exclusively for women. However, there is a nominal fee of 2,000 YR per month.

Nazar Ghanem, HCC Chairman, expressed, “Although the Center is in dire need of financial assistance and opportunities to expand, it relies on itself for 42% of expenses, with 58% from donations, mainly from Yemeni and Kuwaiti businessmen.”

He continued, “We have many plans and projects for development, but because of budget shortages, we have to limit our work. For instance, if we had enough money we would provide medicine for psychological patients on a cost recovery system. Also, we used to have branches in Dhamar, Ibb and Aden, but we closed them because we couldn't afford the expenses.”

Particular attention is paid to the psychological status of patients through counseling, psychotherapy and social guidance offered by young Yemeni University female graduates. There is an emphasis on removing the stigma associated with mental illness. Consequently, the center is pushing for a family doctor module to fit Yemeni culture, rather than a sophisticated medicine module, but it also operates a competent referral system.

Noting that the HCC is a nonprofit organization which only aims to serve people, Ghanem added, “Of course, we have very low charges for some activities, and only in order to cover our expenses. We have some donors who give regularly, and some occasionally, to help us continue our activities and add training facilities for youth who are in need of gaining skills that empower them and enable them to fight unemployment and poverty.”

He commented, “I wish that people who care about art and psychotherapy would give us their support to enable us to serve our people.”

According to Mr. Abdullah Salim, Executive Director of HCC, “We have many goals to achieve. One of these is setting up an out-patient department to provide mental health counseling by a clinical psychologist in liaison with psychiatric charity hospitals. In addition to this, we strive to eradicate the social stigma attached to mental illness by advocating a broader understanding of human well being.”

Another aim of the HCC is to get women and youth in particular involved in innovative leadership roles, whether within the organization or in sister organizations. It also seeks to give practical examples of successful partnerships for development between organizations and the private and government sectors.

The center is currently involved in a literacy campaign in the performing arts, with particular focus on music and the fine arts.

The Health and Culture Center

The Health and Culture Center (HCC) was founded in 1992 as a registered NGO in Sana'a to promote the health of the Yemeni community through cultural and health services. It began at a time when Yemen itself was moving towards democracy and pluralism. Since its establishment, the HCC has grown into a motivated, innovative, and pioneering NGO that is directed by a board of trustees, of which the majority are women. The HCC was established with a special interest in the psychological and medical health of artists and creative Yemeni personalities from the occupational point of view. It also embraced the challenges arising from a radically changing Yemeni society by offering a multitude of services aimed at providing a creative venue for Yemenis with special attention to marginalized communities such as women and youth.

The Center's focus on social development moved into three main categories: mental health, the arts, and women's empowerment. Since the beginning, the center has provided many services and activities that have fluctuated greatly due to donations and budget changes. In the beginning, the services provided were: free psychological treatment with walk-in hours, an anonymous hotline, English lessons, music lessons on the 'ud, violin and guitar, aerobics/fitness facilities for women, computer/electrical training, herbal medicine consultations, and calligraphy/fine arts lessons. Activities included weekly lectures on different topics featuring the Creative Works and ideas of the intellectual and artistic community of Sana'a. The Center saw a burst of activity at this time mainly due to the generosity of enthusiastic Yemeni businessmen. The other main source of funding comes from the contribution of the Kuwaiti Princess and poet, Dr. Suad Al-Sabah.

By 2000, the HCC saw a dwindling of contributions from the Yemeni community and after continuously providing the aforementioned services and activities for four years, much of its services and programs were stopped. Music lessons, the women's fitness program and the free mental health treatment program continued on. New establishments included the inauguration of the center's newsletter, Shuraka, a monthly newsletter with a focus on human rights and development. It is a bilingual newsletter (Arabic/English) with more than 3,000 copies distributed free of charge to all relevant audiences and partner organizations.

Moreover, the HCC produces cassettes hailing the increasing participation of women in elections, and engages expatriate and foreign visitors in Yemeni society through performing arts programs and liaising the efforts of foreign visitors through a cultural and intellectual exchange.

The center is now no longer capable of continuing all the programs it once had, and while running strongly despite financial limitations, it is now limited to only six programs: music lessons, women's fitness facilities, mental health treatment, the newsletter Shuraka, CD series on various topics pertaining to Yemeni society, and intercultural exchange with expatriate and foreign visitor communities.