Yemen Times Person of the Year 2005 Hiyam Mubarak, Chairperson of Al-Iradah Network for Poverty Eradication:”If there is a will, there is a way. We are the will and we make the way!” [Archives:2006/909/Reportage]
Established in one of Aden's poorest areas, the association has direct contact with disadvantaged communities and relates to their issues firsthand. In its early stages, the association conducted regular awareness sessions and activities on poverty reduction. It also aimed to empower women through various training and income generating programs. A milestone in the association's history was transferring its work from charity to organized development work and creating Al-Iradah Network with other associations in Aden governorate.
Mubarak explained how the network began, “We realized there is so much to be done to alleviate poverty in the governorate and we understood that we could not do it alone. So we started networking with other civic organizations with similar mandates so as to create a more powerful impact in societies.”
The WCA began gathering background information by conducting field studies and research on poverty discovering which associations were working in this field. Led by Hiyam Mubarak, the network eventually was created and named Al-Iradah, meaning “the will.” Composed of seven various associations in Aden, they defined Al-Sheikh Othman, Dar Sa'ad, Khour Maksar and Al-Tawahi districts as their target fields. These four districts are the poorest in the governorate and among the poorest in Yemen. The network then divided into two sub networks, each working in one of the two targeted areas. The network totally was based on volunteer initiatives. Sometimes members had to pay from their own pockets to get work going if funding was not secured.
Working under the governor's approval and in coordination with local councils and civil society, the network conducted many awareness sessions for citizens in those target areas. Awareness activities included poverty, hygiene, community participation, social practices and gender equality, among many other important topics.
After becoming acquainted with problems at the grassroots level, the network then worked on qualifying its members in research, data gathering and analysis, as well as project planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluation. As the leading association, WCA had a lot of experience in fund raising and communication, so it trained other members in these aspects as well. At that point, the network felt ready to begin work on productive projects and infrastructure.
Mubarak proudly noted the network's 2005 achievements, “It was the beginning of 2005 when we set our goals differently. It wasn't just about working with local communities on awareness and training. We started thinking big and we ventured into mobilizing infrastructure and service projects. Today we are proud to say that we were behind the construction of two health centers, three post offices, three schools and one electricity generator for a whole town.”
The projects mentioned are as follows and may be seen in field visits:
1. Maternity health center in Al-Tawahi
2. Primary School in Al-Tawahi
3. Health center in Al-Arish
4. Expanding Al-Arish girls school
5. Al-Basateen post office
6. Eastern Dar Sa'ad post office
7. Al-Mimdarah post office
8. Koud Al-Othmani Primary School
9. Electricity generator in eastern Dar Sa'ad
Based on the network's 2005 experiences, the hardest challenges they faced in their work were bureaucracy, limitation of time and financial resources and widespread poverty. Mubarak commented, “Although we managed to get support from government officials, sometimes it is those at the lower level who hold us back, although this is only charity work and we get zero profit from the projects. The other thing is that there is just so much poverty to fight and the situation is getting worse. We surely hope we are lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness and we hope others join our efforts and light more candles with us.”
A purpose in life
Fahima Ahmed Salem is a university graduate from the University of Aden's College of Education English Department. She grew up in a large family of seven children with two illiterate parents. Her parents understood the importance of education and made sure all their children were well educated. Since her graduation, Salem has been waiting for a job and wasting her time doing all sorts of things without a clear purpose. “It was not until I heard about the poverty reduction association and their awareness courses on something called the poverty reduction strategy that I decided to join and see what it was all about.”
Fahima joined the awareness course and learned many new concepts and issues of which she was not aware. These include government's commitment to the strategy and programs implemented by local and international NGOs on poverty. She also realized that every citizen should take this responsibility and not stand still waiting for things to change or get better.
“I discovered there are extremely poor people in Yemen. I never imagined the extent of their suffering. I came to know many new things and conveyed what I learned to my family. I have decided to participate in the association as a volunteer as much as I can and build my capacities so that I am able to make change. My ambitions are high and after the awareness I have received, I now have a clear purpose in life.”
“What doesn't come to you, go and get it!”
Ibtisam Mohammed Al-Yamani remained with her father, a Yemeni immigrant in Lebanon, after he divorced Ibtisam's mother, a Yemeni woman from Aden. She lived the first 20 years of her life in Beirut until 1986 when she came to Yemen at her mother's request.
“The life my mother lived in Aden was miserable. She earned a living selling boiled eggs and potato to school kids. After my mom died in 1997, I didn't know what to do with myself. I married a simple Yemeni man, but my dreams were ambitious and I decided not to surrender to my fate.”
Ibtisam heard about the women's association in al-Mimdarah and learned its objective is to eradicate poverty and help poor women. So, she went to the association and participated in a number of Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper awareness sessions supported by Oxfam.
She was so intrigued by the new concepts and what was said, especially about eradicating poverty and women's empowerment. Ibtisam gained some expertise in beauty and makeup in Beirut and she decided to make use of her abilities and become productive.
“I bought a small suitcase in which I put some simple beauty and hair dressing equipment and wrote on it, 'Mobile Beauty Parlor.' I told my friends and neighbors I could provide this service for reasonably cheap. I promoted my services wherever I went. My motto was, 'What doesn't come to you, go and get it!' Things really worked well and for six months, I have had my own place.”
Ibtisam now is an active association member and planning to provide association training courses in beauty and makeup. She keeps encouraging women to overcome their problems and acquire skills enabling them to be productive and actively participate in development.